Op-Ed: Conservation fund deserves support
Here in the Pacific Northwest we learn to appreciate what nature has given us from a very young age. Perhaps as a child you enjoyed summer swims at Lake Sammamish State Park or hiking along the Lake Wilderness Trail. Or maybe you spent lazy afternoons at the Yakima Riverfront Park or have fond memories of camping in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.
For 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has provided states with federal grants that funded and maintained these parks, trails, ballfields, local fishing sites and other outdoor areas that enriched our childhood and continue to add to our lives into adulthood. Creating recreational areas, preserving cultural heritage locations, and strengthening conservation measures were among President Lyndon Johnson’s goals when Congress passed the Fund in 1965.
Tragically, despite having 118 cosponsors and a long history of overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress was unable to act to reauthorize it on the year of its 50th anniversary. Because of this dysfunction, a program that does not cost taxpayers a dime and supports projects in almost every state, expired on Sept. 30.
The LWCF is the most successful conservation initiative in this nation’s history and the need to maintain funding levels is real and urgent. To understand its significance, let’s begin with the impact the Fund has had on Washington State. Over the past five decades, the LWCF has granted Washington approximately $637 million, protecting state treasures including the Olympic National Park and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Without these funds, not only would many of the recreational areas in our region never have been created in the first place, but stakeholders would lack the funds to preserve and maintain them.
Grants from the LWCF have gone beyond giving Washingtonians a pretty sight to look at and a place for children to play outside. They have contributed substantially to our state economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation contributes more than $11.7 billion annually to Washington’s economy, supporting more than 115,000 jobs. It also generates $650 million in annual state tax revenue and produces $8.5 billion annually in retail sales and services across the state. It is estimated that the over 2.7 million people who participate in hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching add $3 billion to the state economy each year alone.
Realizing both our responsibility to preserve outdoor sites for future generations and the impact the LWCF has on our state economy, I have been fighting to strengthen and maintain the fund since coming to Congress. Recently, I joined with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to introduce a bill that would permanently reauthorize the LWCF; I also sent a letter to leadership warning them about the consequence of letting the fund expire and urging them to bring legislation to the floor; and I have co-led multiple letters to the House Appropriations Committee demanding adequate funding for the program.
While it is critical for the United States to act responsibly to address our national debt, it is important to note that although the LWCF is a federal program, it is not financed by taxpayer dollars. Revenue for the LWCF comes from royalties paid by oil and gas drilling companies that access federal lands. In effect private industry pays the government back for the right to access federal land by providing funds to protect outdoor spaces across the nation.
Upon signing the bill authorizing the LWCF in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson invoked one of the great conservationists who had come before him, President Theodore Roosevelt. Through his establishment of national forests and other conservation efforts, Roosevelt, said Johnson, had “brought the development of a new concept of national stewardship.”
Now in 2015, a time when our environment faces many new challenges, the need is greater than ever to uphold Theodore Roosevelt’s message of national stewardship. For the sake of Washington state and for future generations, I urge my colleagues in Congress to take swift and immediate action in reauthorizing this critical program.
Dave Reichert is the congressman for U.S. Eighth Congressional District.