Conservation fund must be preserved
President Obama’s administration will soon issue what is expected to be a comprehensive report summarizing a national dialogue on the natural places Americans love, and how we can work together to protect them.
This conversation about conservation was launched as part of the president’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, an effort to reconnect Americans with our nation’s natural wonders. The report’s authors will recommend to the president efficient and effective use of resources to preserve the places Americans hold dear.
In particular, the National Audubon Society and others are recommending full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). During a Great Outdoors public listening session in Seattle this summer, attendees expressed a clear desire for fully funding the LWCF.
A bipartisan congressional commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources, and our cultural heritage, and provide recreation opportunities to all Americans, the LWCF has been instrumental in the preservation or creation of a number of projects close to home, including Kobayashi Preserve in University Place, the Tacoma Narrows, Alder Lake Recreational Area, Penrose State Park and Commencement Park, among others.
Pierce County projects have received millions of dollars in LWCF grants dating back to 1966.
LWCF grants also have helped fund parks and wilderness areas that have come to define Washington: Mount Rainier National Park, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Gas Works Park, the Washington Park Arboretum, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
When created by Congress almost 50 years ago, the LWCF was intended to reinvest a portion of public revenues from offshore oil and gas production in the protection of our most precious land resources.
In addition, our visionary leaders intended that the LWCF would provide recreational facilities and close-to-home outdoor opportunities for Americans in every state.
Unfortunately, fulfilling the promise has proven elusive.
The LWCF was supposed to receive $900 million per year – a drop in the bucket of offshore revenues that typically tally in the billions. The money intended to fund the LWCF is not taxpayer money; it consists of a portion of royalties paid to the federal treasury from oil and gas companies that profit from access to our waters offshore.
Yet Congress has shortchanged the LWCF nearly every year, diverting monies to other purposes. Full funding has been appropriated only once in the LWCF’s 46-year history.
In 2007, funding for the program sunk to a low of $138 million. Chronic shortages have resulted in a huge backlog of land and outdoor recreation protection projects across federal public lands and state and local parks.
Given the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, the vision behind the LWCF is more relevant now than ever. In a national bipartisan poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in May, 85 percent of respondents viewed the LWCF as especially important in light of the oil spill.
The success and effectiveness of the LWCF is at a critical moment. The American’s Great Outdoors Initiative report will be submitted to President Obama in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is considering legislation that could include full funding for this indispensable program. Our leaders have a chance now to finally fulfill the promise made in 1964, when the LWCF was created.
This past summer, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that included a provision to fully fund the LWCF. The U.S. Senate must act now to capture this opportunity to finally ensure that the LWCF receives its due.
Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, longtime LWCF supporters, should work with Senate leadership so that full and dedicated funding is included in any relevant legislation and enacted before the end of this Congress.
I am hopeful, too, that the president will adhere to the strong message his administration heard in Seattle and across the country this year: that we need to fully fund the LWCF.
Washington’s special spaces and future generations deserve to have this promise honored. Environmental advocate Helen Engle of Tacoma is director emeritus of the National Audubon Society. She has served on the state Fish & Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Diversity Council since 1997.