Land and Water Conservation Fund restored in budget deal
The congressional omnibus appropriations agreement announced Wednesday includes a three-year reauthorization of a federal fund critical to conservation and recreation in Washington state.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), our nation’s premiere fund for protecting parks, trails, working forests, and waterways, expired for the first time ever on September 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 Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, a group of 280 corporate and non-profit partners, expressed gratitude for this temporary lifeline for the program but reiterated the need for a permanent reauthorization of the program.
“We are grateful to Washington’s Congressional Delegation for being leaders in the fight to save LWCF this year," said Andrea McNamara Doyle, Interim Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. "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. This 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 a permanent authorization," said Senator Cantwell, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell 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.
It was Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson who first introduced the original Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1964. Since then, LWCF has invested over 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, and supporting working forests.
The 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. Helensand 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.