Fate of federal land protections fund uncertain —

Fate of federal land protections fund uncertain

By Dan Richman
Whidbey News Times

A federal fund that has invested nearly $1 million in Island County and $500 million in Washington state expired Wednesday night, and it’s unclear whether it will be resuscitated, a Washington advocacy group said.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, created by Washington senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson in 1964, put $900 million annually toward buying and protecting land in or adjacent to national parks and state and local parks and recreational facilities. Taxpayers put nothing into the fund. It operated by spending a portion of fees collected from offshore oil-drilling operations.

The fund did not pay salaries or underwrite day-to-day operations or maintenance at any park or reserve it helped create, so no shut-downs or partial closures are expected from its demise, said Karin Frank, a spokesperson for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.

Projects already funded in fiscal year 2016 will receive their money.

Still, news of the expiration is hitting some hard.

“Oh, no!” Jack Hartt, manager of Deception Pass State Park, said Thursday when told of the development. “It’s been talked about for months. Losing the potential to preserve critical areas the state can’t afford to protect is a big loss.”

The fund helped create or enlarge some of Whidbey’s most beloved natural areas. It recently gave or promised:

$7.3 million to Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve between 1999 and 2008.

$100,000 toward the Fort Ebey campground

$370,000 toward the Fort Ebey and Fort Casey beaches

$138,000 toward enlarging the Trillium Community Forest

$50,000 toward Possession Beach

$142,000 toward Deception Pass State Park

$43,000 toward Camano Park

During the 1960s, it underwrote parking, campsites and a well in Coupeville’s Rhododendron Park. It also injected funds into Mount Rainier National Park, the Colville National Forest and the Pacific Crest Trail.

The fund’s expiration “is a travesty,” Frank said Thursday. “In general, Congress does not allow programs to expire if it wants to renew them. But we are still hoping it does the right thing after realizing this is a terrible error.”

Washington state senators Maria Cantwell and Patti Murray, and representatives from both sides of the aisle, issued statements calling on their colleagues to reauthorize the fund in the months leading up to the Sept. 30 expiration.

But to no avail.

In July, a bipartisan energy bill released by Cantwell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) included permanent reauthorization of the fund. The bill, called the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, secured funding for  federal investments in national parks and forests, as well as support for state-initiated projects that fund local parks, working forest and valuable habitat and outdoor recreation lands.

That bill “is just sitting,” Frank said. “They may take it up during the next month. There is bipartisan support to resurrect the fund, but there’s also a devoted group of legislators who have a strong stated objection to it.”

Read the complete story at Whidbey News Times
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