Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Victory for outdoor recreation in the Senate Transportation Bill

Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a significant measure to protect land for outdoor recreation, critical wildlife habitat, and rivers and streams across the nation. The amendment to the Surface Transportation Bill would provide $1.4 billion over two years for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and would also fund the RESTORE Act to restore the Gulf Coast. The amendment passed 76-22 with bipartisan support (a big accomplishment right now!)

Land and Water Conservation Funding will support numerous Washington projects, including restoring scenic areas along the Pacific Crest Trail, protecting forests along the Carbon River at Mount Rainier, acquiring checkerboard inholdings within Wenatchee National Forest and conserving working forests on the Olympic Peninsula.

The amendment would require dedicated funding at $700 million for two years and reauthorize the program for a decade. It would also channel 1.5 percent of LWCF funds to help increase access to our existing public lands.

The President recently released a budget requesting $450 million for LWCF, a significant increase over last year’s funding level and a show of support for land conservation. So the Senate and the White House have spoken up in support of LWCF. Now, its up to the U.S. House of Representatives to pass its own transportation bill or a version of the Senate bill before the bill becomes law. The House version of the bill does not currently include a provision to fund LWCF.

That funding isn’t from taxpayer dollars. Instead, LWCF uses funds generated by the depletion of one public resource – oil and gas royalties from the Outer Continental Shelf – to protect our irreplaceable natural heritage on land. Congress has routinely diverted LWCF funds for other uses, and has only fully funded the critical conservation program once.

Recreationists know that protecting our public lands not only preserves irreplaceable areas to get outdoors, but also supports our local economies. Outdoor recreators who, for example, head to the mountains to hike or camp buy gas at local stations, gear and food, supporting 115,000 jobs across Washington and contributing more than $11.7 billion annually to the state’s economy (Outdoor Industry Foundation).

Contact your Representative today and ask them to support our access to the great outdoors through protecting the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

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