Golden anniversary for legislation that's paid off handsomely
Today marks the golden anniversary of two pretty important pieces of federal legislation.
Back when Congress got along (well …), the chambers passed a pair of bills that would come to set aside vast swathes of our mountains, forests and deserts, and fund billions of dollars worth of habitat for critters, parks for kids, and later working forests for rural communities.
President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act and the Land & Water Conservation Fund 50 years ago today, Sept. 3, 1964.
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.
Deer and elk archers are prowling parts of that land now, and in Washington, the High Buck Hunt begins Sept. 15 for riflemen and muzzleloaders in select Central and North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula wildernesses.
True, not every hunter will come back with meat, but you can bet they will all return with memories to last a lifetime.
And besides footprints, High Hunters will leave behind in mountain towns some of the estimated $1.6 billion that is spent annually by Evergreen State sportsmen, according to a new report from the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition.
The organization says that we help support some 21,823 outdoor jobs across Washington.
That just might include yours truly’s gig.
The coalition says that since its creation, the LWCF has also funded over 600 projects across Washington to the tune of $600 million.Among those that have directly benefited game, fish and sportsmen, according to the coalition’s report:
LWCF funding has been key in a statewide effort to protect the headwaters of the Yakima River within the Wenatchee National Forest. The project will ensure the availability of clean water while protecting habitat for elk, mule deer, salmon, steelhead and bull trout. LWCF funds have leveraged state and local funding as a key component of implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, a collaborative water management and environmental restoration effort.
The Skagit River provides prime habitat for steelhead and all five species of salmon and hosts one of the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states. LWCF funding preserved nearly 5,000 acres along the river and helped ensure access for fishing, wildlife viewing and rafting, including funding for the popular Marblemount and Sauk boat launches. Situated at a prime steelhead fishing site, funding helped create and expand Howard Miller Steelhead County Park and develop facilities for camping, fishing, boating, picnicking and trails. LWCF also protected popular waterfowling areas in the Skagit River Delta of the Skagit Wildlife Area.
Colockum (Wildlife Area) stretches across 91,000 acres of steep, rocky slopes and a rolling series of ridges and canyons through Kittitas and Chelan counties. With a balance between dense conifer forest and expansive shrub-steppe, the area provides diverse habitat for a wide variety of game including elk, deer, bighorn sheep, turkey, quail and upland birds like chukar and gray partridge. LWCF purchases protected nearly a quarter of the area providing hunters and wildlife watchers with rich game opportunities.
Grant County boasts the state’s best pheasant, goose and duck habitat, more than doubling the runner-up in average annual duck and goose harvests at 70,000 ducks and 17,000 geese per year. Contributing to these impressive numbers is the Desert Wildlife Recreation Area, with abundant desert and wetlands hunting and lake fishing opportunities. LWCF has helped consolidate the range and secure public access to areas throughout, including portions of Frenchman Ponds, ensuring its economic future as one of Washington’s prime upland and waterfowl hunting grounds.
The coalition is using the anniversary to recall the legacy of Washington’s very own Sen. Scoop Jackson, who authored the LWCF at President Kennedy’s request, and to warn that today’s politics are endangering the flow of its funding — no, not from taxpayer dollars, rather royalties from offshore oil and gas leases.
How sweet a deal is that?
“LWCF is supposed to receive $900 million in royalties each year, but yearly funding approved by Congress has dropped even as both revenues from offshore development and the cost of conservation have increased. Congress has consistently diverted a majority of LWCF funds to unrelated spending, creating a backlog of unmet community needs,” the group says.
Currently, both of Washington’s federal senators and a “majority” of its House membership supports reupping the program, according to the coalition.
“(The Land and Water Conservation Fund) helps manage growth, create opportunities for business, and preserve our green, clean, state,” said Congressman Dave Reichert, an east King County Republican, earlier this summer.
“In Washington state, we know better than most that it’s absolutely critical to protect our natural resources, not only for the environment, but also for our economy,” said Senator Patty Murray in July. “That’s why I’ve been a longtime supporter of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and this funding will support projects across Washington that protect the environment and improve access to the great outdoors.”
But without passing through the entire Congress and getting the president’s signature, LWCF will expire in 2015.
Though it too can get bogged down in politics, fortunately, no such fate awaits future additions to the Wilderness Act.