Congress revives Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has saved Washington wildlands
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program which has built playfields and protected heron rookeries in Washington, has been revived in Congress’ new omnibus spending bill and given a hefty increase in its budget.
The fund will get $450 million through September of 2018, the money coming from royalties collected from the federal government’s offshore oil and gas leases. The program had been marked for extinction or radical modification by conservative Republicans led by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“How ’bout that? This is definitely good news,” said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash. “My district (Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas) benefits significantly. The money has built parks in Tacoma and protected forest land in Kitsap County . . .It’s a win-win situation. It protects extraordinary natural assets and it is funded by oil and gas leases.”
U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., is a Republican who has fought to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The fund’s close calls have included surviving by a wafer-thin 216-212 vote in the House. The program’s money ran out on Sept. 30. Reichert was applauding and breathing easier now that it is back in the budget. The omnibus bill is slated for passage later this week.
“In Washington state alone, the LWCF has helped conserve the natural beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail, Mt. Rainier National Park, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and Columbia River Gorge,” said Reichert. “These are places that attract visitors from across the country, and even from other parts of the globe.”
“While the reauthorization is only for three years, I am proud to be part of the bipartisan group of members responsible for reviving the program, and I will continue working toward a permanent solution that ensures that the LWCF’s continued use to preserve the splendor of Washington state for future generations.”
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created in 1964, a brainchild of Washington’s late Sen. Henry Jackson.
“LWCF is a critical tool to protect our open spaces in Washington and around the country: The increase in real funding and a three year reauthorization will allow us to do important work in our state. I will continue to push for permanent reauthorization,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who holds the Senate seat once occupied by Jackson.
The fund has spent more than $500 million on preservation and recreation, often matching money with state and local programs. It has worked closely with the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition in this state. Money from the fund helped create the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island and preserve a magnificent old-growth cedar forest on Long Island in Willapa Bay.
Kilmer reflected Wednesday on the delicious irony that money from what some call a “dirty industry” — oil drilling in offshore leases — is used to buy up and protect recreation land and unspoiled places.
And Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., dean of Washington’s congressional delegation, noted the once smooth, lately rocky history of the LWCF.
“This is one program that has always been bipartisan, all of our districts benefit,” said McDermott. It never got caught up in the partisan wrangling before. It was scary to see some of these right-wing guys try to kill it. That it emerges with more money is amazing.”
Not only has the Land and Water Conservation Fund been revived, but it will also get $50 million more than proposed in President Obama’s budget, and almost 50 percent more money than it was able to spend in the first nine months of this year.