Op-Ed: Let us keep it, a fund for our ways
Across our state, and particularly here in Central Washington, we are facing unprecedented drought and warm weather, and the accompanying water shortages affecting irrigators, our rivers and streams and our wildlife and fish. It is more important than ever for us to invest in the types of conservation that make our rivers and watersheds more resilient. Protecting watershed lands keeps our rivers fuller, cooler and cleaner, with water for people, our farms and our fish. Unfortunately, our premiere federal program for doing this critical work, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), will expire in September unless Congress acts.
For the last 50 years, LWCF has protected many natural treasures and opened them up for all of us to enjoy. In our region, this includes areas of Lake Chelan, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, North Cascades National Park, Camas Meadows and Moses Coulee, as well as local and state parks such as Lake Wenatchee State Park and Pioneer Park and Pool. LWCF does this without using any taxpayer dollars. It is entirely funded by using a small portion of the leases private oil and gas companies pay to drill on our publically owned waters — investing a small amount of the money earned from selling off one natural resource into preserving our outdoors for future generations.
We have a strong outdoor heritage in central Washington. Our stunning waterways, hills and mountains, forests and grasslands give us an incredible quality of life. We are anglers and hunters, hikers and campers, paddlers and mountain bikers. This outdoor culture depends on our continued access to our great outdoors, provided by LWCF. It also plays a big role in our local economy, drawing in tourism and supporting local small businesses. In Chelan and Douglas counties, outdoor recreation on public land directly supports nearly $500 million in consumer spending and 5,000 jobs each year.
LWCF also prioritizes inholdings that are important watershed lands, protecting the health and quality of our waters for our fisheries, farms, and communities. In 2016, LWCF could acquire inholdings — pockets of privately owned land within the boundaries of our national parks and forests — to protect access to the Pacific Crest Trail. Additionally, a large, ongoing, multiyear project of LWCF has been the protection of critical watershed lands for the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers. If we hope to pass on our strong outdoors heritage and valuable watershed vitality to future generations, we can’t afford to allow this program that has successfully protected our heritage for the last 50 years and that has the support of over 85 percent of Americans to expire. Thankfully, in Washington state our senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with Rep. Dave Reichert, have been working hard to ensure that our communities do not lose LWCF. As a local community member and someone who is passionate about preserving our waterways, protecting local farms and our angling traditions for future generations, I want to commend them for their hard work on behalf of our outdoor heritage, working farms and ranches, and healthy communities — and I urge you to do the same.
Lisa Pelly is director of Trout Unlimited’s Washington Water Project, a statewide nonprofit working with farmers, ranchers and irrigation districts to improve river flows and water quality for fish and wildlife.