Thursday, September 24, 2015

Action Alert: One Small Program, One Big Investment In Lands, Waters, Communities

By Bill Kunze, Pennsylvania Chapter Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy

On September 26—National Public Lands Day, volunteers will gather at State Parks and other public spaces across Pennsylvania to help care for the Commonwealth’s cherished public lands. In a sad twist of irony, only a few days later, the Nation’s premier program for conserving our most precious lands and waters will expire.    
If you enjoy clean water, fresh air, healthy lands, vibrant communities, and a robust economy, you’ve benefited from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
Funding made available through LWCF has been instrumental in protecting many of Pennsylvania’s most treasured places, like the John Heinz Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge, Gettysburg National Military Park, and the Flight 93 National Memorial.
After 50 years of successful conservation, locally and nationally, the LWCF is set to expire - unless Congress acts soon - robbing you, me, and every American of an opportunity to invest in the very things we cherish most.
Since 1965, the LWCF has used a small percentage of federal revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling leases to invest in lands, water, recreation, and working landscapes. LWCF uses no taxpayer dollars. None.
Its investments have created and enhanced local and state parks, working farms and forests, wildlife refuges, national forests, historic battlefields, cultural sites, and access for hunting and fishing.
Those investments have been made near you. Pennsylvania has received approximately $295 million in LWCF funding over the past five decades, protecting places such as the Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Allegheny National Forest, and more recently the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
See for more information about protected places.
Funding has helped all 50 states and 98 percent of all U.S. counties, supporting the protection of 3 million acres of recreation lands and more than 29,000 recreation facilities, matched by local monies and driven by local priorities.
Across the country, national parks, refuges, and forests have been created or enhanced through LWCF funding. These national lands protect our history; they ensure outdoor recreation opportunities that tally up some 407 million visits each year; and they secure opportunities for fishing, hunting, hiking, and countless other activities.
When Congress passed the LWCF 50 years ago, lawmakers did so knowing that outdoor recreation is fundamental to our well-being and healthy communities. And today we understand that healthy natural places can also help safeguard our communities.
Forests serve as natural filters for our drinking water. Salt marshes and shellfish reefs can blunt the impact of coastal storms.
Healthy Lands, Vibrant Economy
These investments not only safeguard our way of life, they enhance our economy.
Hunting, fishing, camping, and other outdoor recreation activities contribute a total of $725.5 billion annually to the economy, supporting 6.15 million jobs (one of every 20 jobs in the United States) and stimulating 8 percent of all consumer spending.
The ripple effect of outdoor recreation activities is even greater, with an estimated economic impact of $1.2 trillion and an estimated employment impact of 12 million jobs annually.
That economic impact is real from the local scale – from an angler’s purchase of bait and snacks – to the collective strength of millions of outdoor-related purchases throughout the country.
The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation generates $21.5 billion annually in consumer spending in Pennsylvania; supports 219,000 jobs across the state, which generate $7.2 billion in wages and salaries; and produces $1.6 billion annually in state and local tax revenue.  
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that each year over 5.4 million people participated in hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching in Pennsylvania, contributing $5.4 billion to the state economy.
The Challenge to Save LWCF
The LWCF is in serious trouble. Unless Congress reauthorizes the LWCF, it will expire on September 30. But right now, we have an opportunity to save it.
We also have an opportunity to fund it at the level Congress intended when the program was created 50 years ago.  LWCF is authorized to receive a small percentage of offshore oil and gas revenues – up to $900 million per year – but across the decades most of those funds have been diverted to other uses.
With America losing 1 million acres of working farms, forests, and ranches each year, it’s critical that LWCF receive its full funding.
As September 30 looms, your congressional representatives need to hear from you. Many of Pennsylvania’s lawmakers have been supportive of renewing LWCF, and it has historically had strong bipartisan support.
But since this needs such urgent action, Congress needs to hear today how much their constituents value the LWCF for all it does to help our economy, safeguard our communities, and sustain our way of life.
The clock is ticking. I hope you will join me, and The Nature Conservancy’s 40,000 members in Pennsylvania, by speaking up and telling our representatives in Congress to renew and fully fund the LWCF.
The world we depend on depends on us.
For more information and to take action, visit The Nature Conservancy Land and Water Conservation Fund webpage.

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