Op-Ed: LWCF: A tool to enhance our state's most treasured habitats
On Oct. 3, if you hiked through the forests at Port Gamble Uplands, you probably spied more than just birds. There is also a good chance you ran into gloved volunteers clearing a new path for the Beaver Pond trail as part of the REI Port Gamble Park Stewardship Day.
In our community, we take pride in the majestic outdoor spaces you find in our backyard. We don't just run, bike and walk through them; we take an active role in protecting nature and making trails and parks accessible to visitors.
It's why we've seen such widespread support for the creation of the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project. This effort has already purchased magnificent tracts of land and, if all goes according to plan, we could see parks and trails extend from Kingston to Port Gamble and up to Hansville. Whether you are a runner, biker, hiker or explorer, a variety of trails and wildlife would be at your fingertips, enabling families to form lasting memories. People will come from near and far to enjoy these treasures — and then visit a local restaurant, stay in a local hotel or shop at a local store, benefiting our economy.
But efforts like this are in danger of losing a key partner because of Congressional inaction.
When the clock hit midnight on Oct. 1, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund(LWCF) closed for business. Since its founding in 1964, the LWCF has been central to creating new spaces and protecting old ones for Americans to enjoy. The LWCF has advanced over 40,000 conservation projects around our nation — protecting community green spaces, memorializing battlefields and building parks, trails and ballfields.
If this tool disappears, we lose another a way to enhance our state's most treasured habitats.
This vital program also has a direct tie to Washington state. Former Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson introduced legislation that started the fund, commenting that Americans "go to the open areas."
The LWCF has given folks in our region more chances to experience the open areas Jackson talked about. In fact, last year, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition found that, since its inception, the LWCF has invested nearly $600 million in more than 600 projects in Washington state. It's helped build parks in Tacoma and protect forestland here in Kitsap County. And it's done that with no cost to you.
That's because rather than invest taxpayer money from general funds, the LWCF has been funded through oil and gas lease revenues from companies that drill in the Outer Continental Shelf. Using offshore oil and gas revenues to improve public access to our nation's most breathtaking landscapes is a win-win. What's more, according to the Trust for Public Lands, every dollar spent through the LWCF generates $4 in economic value.
That's why the LWCF has historically received bipartisan support in Congress. In fact, a bill I've cosponsored to permanently reauthorize the LWCF was introduced by Rep. Dave Reichert. It's also why more than 160 Democrats and Republicans sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner asking that Congress take up and pass a bill to keep the LWCF going.
Renewing this program gives Congress the opportunity to focus, at least for a little while, on progress rather than on partisanship.
Dave Haley, a member of the North Kitsap Trails Association, loves the area trails so much he's known as the "crazy raker" for spending so much time maintaining them. I'm determined to ensure folks like Dave continue to have the LWCF shovel in hand to help them with the job.
— Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Bremerton, represents Kitsap County in the U.S. House of Representatives.