Land and Water Conservation Fund restored in budget deal —

Land and Water Conservation Fund restored in budget deal

By Rich Landers

OUTDOOR RECREATION -- A federal fund critical to conservation and recreation in Washington state has been reauthorized by Congress for three years.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, our nation’s premiere fund for protecting parks, trails, working forests and waterways, expired for the first time since its inception on Sept. 30th after 50 years of strong bipartisan support.

The fund takes a small percentage of the money earned when our nation’s offshore oil and gas resources are sold and reinvests it into preserving America’s natural resources for future generations.

The fund was restored in the congressional omnibus appropriations agreement announced on Wednesday.

The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, a group of 280 corporate and non-profit partners, issued a media release expressing gratitude for this temporary lifeline for the program but reiterated the need for a permanent reauthorization of the program.

The coalition is a non-profit citizens group founded in 1989 in a bipartisan effort by former Washington governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry.

“We are grateful to Washington’s Congressional delegation for being leaders in the fight to save LWCF this year," said Andrea McNamara Doyle,  coalition interim executive director.

"It is a huge relief to know that this program that is so important for our state’s economy and way of life will continue to be there for our communities, but LWCF needs permanent reauthorization and full funding so that we can continue to protect our state’s valuable natural resources and heritage.”

"This is a critical tool to protect our open spaces in Washington and around the country," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Sens. Cantwell and Patty Murray have been strong supporters of LWCF, and along Congressman Dave Reichert (R-Auburn) and six other members of Washington’s delegation have been working to permanently reauthorize the fund.

Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson introduced the original Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1964. Since then, LWCF has invested more than half a billion dollars for state and federal land conservation projects in Washington alone, providing grants to hundreds of state and local parks, trails, fishing access sites, and recreational facilities across the state.

The fund also has supported working forests.

Wednesday's budget deal includes $450 million for LWCF in 2016, higher than the 2015 level but only half of the program’s full funding level of $900 million.

Several Washington projects are likely to receive funding in the bill:

  • Filling in gaps along the Pacific Crest Trail to protect safety and ensure continued public access.
  • Forest Legacy Program conservation easements to protect working forests at Mt. St. Helens and promote sustainable forestry.
  • Federal acquisition of properties in the Lake Quinault area of the Olympic National Park to protect local fisheries and curb sewage dumping that is threatening water quality.
  • The preservation of 165 acres of historic farmland dating back to the 1850’s at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island through conservation easements.
  • The protection of the Yakima River watershed to protect important water resources in the Yakima Basin and provide clean water for local farms, fisheries, and communities.

The LWCF uses no taxpayer dollars. The $900 million in offshore oil and gas lease revenue is meant to be invested in parks and outdoor recreation opportunities each year. However, a majority of LWCF funds have been diverted for unrelated purposes.

Read the complete story at Spokesman-Review
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Despite fifty years of success and strong bipartisan support the Land and Water Conservation fund expired September 30.

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