Op-Ed: Protect Kitsap's outdoor resources and public lands
There is a battle over public lands in Congress right now, and our nation’s premiere program to help local communities protect the places they love, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is on the line. After 50 years as one of our country’s most successful programs, LWCF needs to be reauthorized by Congress before September 30thof this year, or we will lose it forever.
All of LWCF’s incredible benefits cost not a single taxpayer dime. Wherever you stand on offshore drilling, the reality is that these oil and natural gas operations are depleting natural resources that the American people hold in common. LWCF is based on a simple idea — that as private companies benefit from public resources, a portion of their proceeds should be invested into parks, trails, habitat, and wild lands all of us can enjoy.
But despite the strong bipartisan support behind it, and the 88 percent of Americans who say they support reauthorizing LWCF, preserving the program for future generations will be an uphill battle. In the highly charged political climate of today’s Congress, LWCF is facing many opponents of public lands who are out of touch with the interests of the vast majority of the American public.
If they succeed, the loss won’t be abstract — it will be real and immediate. Ranked high on the LWCF list this year, for example, is a slate of projects around Lake Quinault in Olympic National Park. Significant private use and development pressure in the region has compromised water quality, including from the direct discharge of human waste into the lake. Acquiring these lands from willing sellers will guarantee that private purchases don’t close them to the public while safeguarding pristine waters for fishing, swimming, camping and other activities.
As a state senator I have seen firsthand the value of LWCF’s partnerships with state and local governments. Through programs like the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), the state Legislature has provided millions of dollars to preserve habitat, outdoor recreation and local parks projects in our region. But Washington state’s own investments have been stretched with federal support from LWCF, with more than $32 million in direct grants to state agencies in our region alone since 2000. These funds have supported working forests and the jobs that depend on them. They’ve also made possible numerous state parks, like Scenic Beach, Manchester and Blake Island, along with a multitude of hiking trails, water access sites and endangered species habitats. Quite simply, most of these wouldn’t exist without state partnership with LWCF.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. LWCF is also the only federal program that supports land acquisition that’s critical for opening up our natural heritage to public access. In the process, LWCF works to consolidate the patchwork of public lands that complicate land management by the National Park system and the U.S. Forest Service. By purchasing inholdings — privately owned parcels within the boundaries of public lands — LWCF secures public access, protects water quality and local watersheds, reduces the risk of forest fires, and reduces maintenance cost — all saving taxpayer money.
And while these benefits are important in every corner of our state, there’s a particular impact here in Kitsap. Our county provides and serves as a gateway to incredible outdoor recreation opportunities that are a valuable economic engine for our region. WWRP and LWCF together form the foundation of an outdoor recreation economy that is responsible for annual consumer expenditures on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas of nearly $2 billion, which supports more than 18,000 jobs.
Protecting our natural heritage, water security, quality of life and outdoor economy is too important for any of us to sit on the sidelines this year. This is the reason why in Olympia I have long advocated for WWRP, both for protecting the program’s integrity and supporting a high level of funding for its investments. And it’s why I’m grateful that we are represented by such strong conservation advocates in Washington, D.C. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with Congressman Derek Kilmer, know the crucial role LWCF plays in our economic prosperity. We’re counting on them to lead the charge to reauthorize this vital program this year.
State Sen. Christine Rolfes represents the state’s 23rd District, made up of Central and North Kitsap. She is also a board member on the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.