Op-Ed: Land and water fund renewal critical to Yakima Valley's recreation
In the Yakima River Basin, access to public lands is a key component of the outdoor recreation economy. A big part of maintaining and increasing access to public lands is a little-known federal program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For the last 50 years, the LWCF has invested in parks, pools, trails and river access projects throughout Yakima County.
The LWCF also opened parts of the Gifford Pinchot Forest and Yakima River Canyon to hunters and anglers, preserved the beauty of the Cowiche Canyon for hikers and wildlife watchers and protected Yakima watershed lands to protect our water supply and keep it clean for the farms, fisheries, and families of the Yakima Valley. The LWCF protects the outdoor recreation areas and natural resources, supporting our local economy today while preserving our natural heritage for future generations. Unfortunately, the LWCF will expire at the end of September unless Congress reauthorizes it.
The LWCF is based on the simple idea that as we sell off natural resources, we should reinvest a portion of earnings into conserving and opening up our natural heritage to the public. LWCF is entirely funded from a small percentage of the leases paid by companies to drill offshore for oil and gas on our public waters. It does not use a penny of taxpayer money.
Moreover, the LWCF is critical for our Yakima heritage, where many of us enjoy experiencing our great outdoors, whether as hunters, hikers, mountain bikers, anglers, horse riders, whitewater enthusiasts or climbers. Our beautiful surroundings are an integral part of our way of life, and they make Yakima a great place to live and work.
Protecting public lands is important for maintaining our farming heritage, as well. The fund is a key tool for promoting regional water quality and maintaining economic strengths of the farming community in Yakima. Communities across Washington rely on our local agricultural economy for continued access to fresh, local and healthy food options.
One of the significant multiyear projects funded by the program in Washington is the Yakima Watershed project, which purchases from willing sellers land important for protecting the Yakima River. We must continue to invest in protecting our water resources in the face of the current drought, and this important work will stop short if Congress allows the LWCF to expire.
The great outdoors aren’t just a way of life here in Yakima — they are also big business. Our natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor recreation help drive our tourism industry, bringing people from across the state and around the world to raft down the Yakima River, bird watch in the Cowiche Canyon and fly fish on the Naches and Yakima Rivers. Outdoor recreation on public lands in Yakima County supports about 5,400 jobs and $670 million in consumer spending each year.
We are running out of time to save this critical program for preserving our outdoor heritage, farms and way of life here in Yakima County. Just north of us, Rep. Dave Reichert is fighting hard to save the LWCF, while Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray lead the charge in the Senate. Trout Unlimited was excited when Cantwell worked with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to craft a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the LWCF as part of the Energy Bill. We are encouraged by newly elected Rep. Dan Newhouse’s long track record as a state leader and hope he takes the opportunity to make a real difference for the program in Congress. We need his help to stand up for Yakima’s great outdoors and take a leadership role to reauthorize the LWCF and preserve our environment for future generations.
• Steve Joyce is the co-owner of Red’s Fly Shop on Canyon Road. He lives in Yakima.