Editor's Note: Tell Congress to reauthorize LWCF
Back when Congress was able to do big, meaningful things, our federal legislators passed a pair of bills that celebrate their golden anniversary this fall.
Signed by President Johnson 50 years ago, the Wilderness Act and the Land & Water Conservation Fund have come to set aside vast swathes of our mountains, forests and deserts, and fund billions of dollars worth of habitat for our favorite tasty critters, parks for kids, and later working forests for rural communities.
These days in the Northwest, Idaho has the most wilderness acreage, 4,523,000 acres, but is followed closely by a state only four-fifths its size, Washington, with 4,463,000. Oregon has 2,476,000 acres.
Archers prowled that high ground last month for bucks and bulls, and this month, riflemen will head up to famed wildernesses such as the Frank Church, Eagle Cap and Pasayten. True, not every hunter will come back with meat, but you can bet they will all return with memories of pristine, primeval country like Lewis & Clark saw.
And besides footprints, they will leave behind cold hard cash in mountain towns. According to a new report from the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition, in the Evergreen State alone, sportsmen annually spend an estimated $1.6 billion, supporting nearly 22,000 outdoor jobs. (That just might include yours truly’s gig – thank you very much, I do appreciate it.)
The coalition also says that since its creation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has funded over 600 projects across Washington to the tune of $600 million. That’s gone towards preserving access to the upper Skagit River and securing waterfowl habitat on its delta, blocking up game bird habitat near Potholes Reservoir, and helping buy a quarter of the sprawling Colockum Wildlife Area north of Ellensburg. LWCF funding has also been key for a host of waterfowl and big game refuges in Oregon and Idaho.
But all is not rosy, as you might imagine. Today’s overly divisive politics are endangering the flow of funding, which comes not from taxpayer dollars, but rather royalties from offshore energy leases.
That’s a pretty sweet deal from crude.
Even as oil and gas royalties have risen in recent years, LWCF is not being funded to its $900 million cap. And while the Wilderness Act is added to every few years, LWCF has to be reauthorized annually. Right now there is worry that without passage out of Congress this session, it could expire next year. In 2013, a House subcommittee infamously defunded the entire thing, though a deal was eventually worked out, and $306 million was budgeted.
The good news is that the president has forwarded a 2015 budget calling for LWCF’s full (and permanent) funding, and many Northwest legislators – from Rep. Dave Reichert, the former King County, Wash., sheriff and Idaho Senator Mike Crapo to almost all of Oregon’s far-sighted delegation – have signed letters to colleagues urging them to support “strong appropriations.”
Ironically, though, some legislators from parts of the Northwest with the most to gain from the cash cow that is outdoor recreation are among those who still need a bit of a nudge to support this common-sense funding mechanism. You can learn more about the benefits of LWCF at lwcfcoalition.org, and then I urge you to contact your federal legislators.