Renew our land and water legacy
Our nation continues to fall far short of its aspiration to provide wise stewardship of our most treasured natural assets - parks, rivers, wildlife refuges and open spaces. This is because Congress and successive presidents fail to live up to the goals of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The LWCF was created by Congress 45 years ago to use part of the money generated by offshore oil and gas leases to provide a reliable funding stream for maintenance of our nation's considerable legacy of public lands. It made sense then and it makes sense now to give back part of our profits from nature's bounty to ensure that our children and grandchildren can always enjoy America's amazing outdoors.
If Congress was really following its own law, the LWCF would get $900 million a year. "The money is intended to create and protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects," according to a coalition that advocates on behalf of this program.
Instead, every year the lion's share of funding for the LWCF is used for unrelated purposes, with the actual allocation falling below $100 million in 2007. As a result, federal land agencies estimate there is a backlog of about $30 billion. "Opportunities to protect fish and wildlife habitat, provide public access for recreation, preserve our nation's most notable historic and cultural sites, and protect scenic vistas are being lost every day to development," the LWCF Coalition says.
Our federal and state governments face difficult budgetary decisions as the aftermath of the Great Recession continues to grind on. But there is no doubt our economic and financial situation will return to normal. While the real estate market is down is the right time to be laying the groundwork for addressing the park and conservation needs of the future.
Both Oregon and Washington benefit enormously from the LWCF and related state programs. Wildlife refuges on Columbia estuary islands and Willapa Bay are particularly beholden to this fund. For example, Willapa National Wildlife Refuge has received $11.4 million from LWCF over the years and stands to get $750,000 more next year if Congress keeps its fingers out of the pie.
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition is pressing the Legislature to continue forward with the state component of spending for these sorts of capital projects. Oregon likewise should also be moving ahead on these long-term investments.
As noted by Bill Riley, 2010 president of the Washington Association of Realtors, "Realtors look at this as a necessary part of our quality of life mission. It's just like infrastructure, like water, bridges and roads. This is the best time to buy land in the past decade. If we underfund this program, we'll miss out."
It's tough getting lawmakers to agree on much of anything these days. And this year will be harder than most, with budget cuts and stalemate on the regional and national menu. But ours and future generations will benefit in countless tangible and intangible ways by keeping our promises to preserve and enhance precious lands and waters.