Op-Ed: Urge Congress to renew conservation fund
As a Realtor, I know how important our incredible natural surroundings are in shaping our Spokane community. Our stunning great outdoors provide numerous opportunities for hiking, hunting, angling, paddling, horseback riding and mountain biking; drawing new families and businesses to our region and providing us with a great quality of life.
Unfortunately, unless Congress acts soon, our premier national program for protecting these outdoor areas, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), will expire in just 50 days.
For the past 50 years, the LWCF has protected our natural heritage, and helped open up our great outdoors for the public to enjoy. The LWCF is entirely funded with a small portion of offshore drilling fees – it uses no taxpayer dollars. It reinvests a small portion of money earned by selling publicly owned oil and gas resources into conserving our common heritage and natural treasures for the public to enjoy.
I recently participated in a roundtable conversation with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on the importance of reauthorizing the LWCF. I’m grateful that she expressed support for the fund. I sincerely hope that when she heads back to Washington, D.C., she fights to protect this program, including its important balance of both state and federal conservation and outdoor recreation projects.
The LWCF works with willing sellers to purchase inholdings – pockets of private land within existing boundaries of our national parks and wildlife refuges. That reduces management costs for our parks, as well as the risk of forest fires. It preserves the quality of the land, and ensures that it is open for public access. The fund also provides grants to state agencies for local conservation and recreation projects, and supports working farms and forests.
Over the years, the LWCF has made numerous investments in our communities, protecting Turnbull and Little Pend Oreille national wildlife refuges and improving public access to the Colville National Forest. Just last year, the LWCF funded the acquisition of 7 miles along Big Sheep Creek in Colville, opening more of the stream to anglers and filling in a 2.5-mile-long gap in the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.
The LWCF has also protected water access and built boat launches at Eloika Lake, Amber Lake and the Little Spokane River and supported Mount Spokane and Riverside state parks, Dragoon Creek Campground, and numerous other local treasures.
These lands are used and loved by hunters, anglers, hikers and wildlife watchers from across the state, and help support a strong outdoor economy here in Spokane County, where outdoor recreation on public lands supports 12,500 jobs and $1.3 billion in consumer spending each year.
Beyond providing local jobs, our excellent opportunities for recreation are an important part of drawing new families and businesses to our region. The LWCF supports the local parks, including creating Liberty Lake Park, Friendship Park and the Southeast Sports Complex, and helping redevelop High Bridge Park in Spokane. These parks don’t just give us green refuges and places for children to play in our growing urban areas. Research by the National Association of Realtors found that natural area parks boost regional home values by 16 percent.
In my work, I see the direct impact of these investments all the time. Recently, a family came to me wanting to move to the area from out of state specifically for our outdoors. Their request was to find a home next door to conservation lands so they could experience the incredible open spaces Spokane has to offer.
Despite the fact that 85 percent of Americans want to see the LWCF renewed, there is a very real chance that this Congress will allow it to expire. This would be bad for our state, and especially for Spokane. Washington leaders like Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with McMorris Rodgers, can make sure that the LWCF keeps investing in our great outdoors. We’re counting on them.
Suzy Dix is a member of the board of trustees for The Nature Conservancy for the state of Washington, and board member of the Dishman Hills Conservancy.