Congress heads back to work on November 15th facing a huge backlog of legislation. While the federal budget and a host of other issues will compete for attention during the short, lame-duck session, the bipartisan support for fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund separates it from most other proposals. Having passed the House, all that remains is to secure passage in the Senate to restore the single most important funding source for conservation and recreation in the United States. Urge your Senators include the Land and Water Conservation Fund in legislation during the last session of the 111th Congress.
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. Legislation that has already passed the House would rectify this situation with full funding available each year, not subject to cuts in the annual appropriations process. Recent national bipartisan polling shows overwhelming support (86% of voters) for the continued use of offshore oil and gas feed for land and water protection through full funding of the LWCF.
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 made possible by LWCF. 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 in Seattle, public access on 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 acquired by a land trust for sale to the Forest Service had to be sold on the open market due to a lack of available LWCF.