America's Great Outdoors relies on continued public investment
In 2009, the state of Washington issued almost 2 million recreational hunting and fishing licenses; hunting and fishing are a huge part of our way of life. But without continued investments to protect wildlife habitat, clean water and sportsmen access, it's a way of life that's endangered. This week, representatives from the Obama administration will arrive in Seattle as part of their "America's Great Outdoors" Initiative, to hear from the public about what we would like to see in the nation's conservation agenda.
I hope they get the message that reliable investments in natural lands are vital to Washington's many sportsmen.
In 1965, the federal government created the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a "trust fund" that accumulates revenues, primarily from oil and gas leases, for acquisition of protected lands and easements to improve public access to existing federal lands. It is the primary source of funding available to federal land-management agencies to develop and assure access to the places we hunt and fish.
LWCF has funded acquisition and expansion of our federal wildlife-refuge system in Washington, including major projects at Nisqually, Ridgefield, Grays Harbor, Turnbull and Willapa refuges. But not all LWCF projects in Washington have been on federal lands.
For many years, the state and local LWCF grant program funded hundreds of smaller projects that are important to recreational hunters and anglers around the state, including public boat marinas at Poulsbo and Westport; fishing access sites on the upper Skagit, Toutle, Hoh and Cowlitz rivers; fishing piers in Seattle, Tacoma and Edmonds; and recreational access to state wildlife-management areas such as the Skagit Wildlife Area north of Seattle and the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area near Ellensburg.
LWCF is and has been a critical tool for protecting our tradition of sportsmanship and outdoors lifestyle. Although LWCF has made great investments in Washington's natural environment, its effectiveness is hampered by the fact that it is not a permanent and dedicated fund. Unfortunately, Congress has failed to annually appropriate the full $900 million contributed to the LWCF. In the past decade, Congress only appropriated an average of $313 million annually, or less than 5 percent of the available offshore revenues.
As a result of inconsistent and unreliable funding for LWCF, federal land-management agencies have not been able to take advantage of many willing seller opportunities that would have protected important wildlife habitats and provided more places for sportsmanship, economic development and recreation.
Currently, there are efforts under way, supported by committed leaders in Washington, D.C., such as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to create sustainable funding for LWCF.
Full and dedicated funding for LWCF should be a cornerstone of the administrations' America's Great Outdoors Initiative; Washington's natural spaces need it — and we all should be demanding it.
Joe LaTourrette of Olympia is the Oregon-Washington liaison for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, preserving the traditions of hunting and fishing since 2003