The House Natural Resources Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over public lands, will be holding a hearings this week on a bill that would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (HR 3534) at the authorized level of $900 million.
What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established in 1965 to meet the nation's growing desire to preserve natural areas, culturally and historically significant landmarks, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Federal Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing provides the revenue for LWCF--the concept is a simple one where extraction of resources we all use provides some revenue for important access and conservation projects on our nation's public lands. Unfortunately only a fraction of the intended revenue from these leases has gone into the fund with the balance being diverted to general funds for other purposes. In fact last year LWCF funding approached an all time low of $155 million. The proposed legislation in Congress would rectify this situation with full funding available each year, not subject to cuts in the annual appropriations process.
Why Is This Important For Outdoor Recreation?
If LWCF was fully funded, it would have a rather large positive and direct impact on organizations like The Mountaineers who depend on access to outdoor recreation and conservation of treasured landscapes on public lands. There would be 5 times the amount of federal money available to protect land and assure access to human-powered recreation. More trails, more river access, more crags, more backcountry skiing.
Since its creation, LWCF has made nearly 7 million acres of land available for outdoor recreation. The fund has helped to complete iconic American landscapes like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, the Appalachian Trail, and Grand Teton National Park and here at home the North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and Olympic National Parks have all benefitted from this program. In addition the fund has established close-to-home parks and recreation facilities providing new and improved recreation opportunities for all Americans. Washington is home to over 500 successful local, regional, state, and federal projects. The Duwamish River Trail, Green River Gorge Conservation Area and associated State Parks, mature forest lands in the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, lands along Icicle Creek in the Wenatchee National Forest, Green Lake Park, public access the White Salmon River, public shoreline access along Puget Sound, and Fort Worden State Park are just a few examples of public recreation lands in Washington that have received aid from LWCF.
Unfortunately the recent lack of funding has resulted in lost opportunities. In 2004 the State of Washington received only 5 percent of requested funds through the program and while we have enjoyed key successes, there have been a number of lost opportunities. For example key conservation opportunities along the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River were recently lost due to a lack of available LWCF.
Hearings this week by the House Natural Resources Committee are an important step towards realizing the full potential of this important program. Here in Washington State, Congressman Inslee is a key member of this committee and the the Mountaineers have joined other members of the outdoor recreation community in asking for the Congressman's leadership on this issue.