OPINION: Need to preserve public access
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to explore every inch of our county’s public lands on horseback, dirt bike and on foot and seen how the outdoors are so deeply tied to our culture. Sometimes, however, we don’t consider what it takes to protect these spaces for the next generation.
Places like our many state and federal wildlife areas, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Wenatchee National Forest were all protected by a little-known federal grant program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
The LWCF helps ensure we all continue to have access to forests, lakes and rivers where we can hike, hunt, and fish, while at the same time keeping our air and water clean. It’s important to me that the funds aren’t taxpayer dollars. Instead, it is funded by offshore oil and gas lease royalties — revenue from the sale of one public resource intended to reinvest in the natural heritage we all share.
This year, funding is needed through the LWCF to ensure public access to prime recreation lands at the headwaters of the Little Naches River.
But the program was recently zeroed out in a House proposal, and it needs to be reauthorized in 2015. There’s a lot of work our members of Congress need to do to ensure this singularly successful conservation program continues on.
In my 30 years as a law enforcement officer and search and rescue coordinator, I have seen firsthand that these investments are essential for the health of the community. Nothing is better at keeping kids out of trouble than getting into nature and fostering a lasting interest in the outdoors.
Without places to access Washington’s bountiful outdoors, I wouldn’t have been able to teach my kids and hundreds of students in my 17 years as a hunter education instructor how to become good sportspeople and stewards of the land.
Preserving public lands also protects our agricultural industry by giving elk and deer a place to graze. If we divide traditional wildlife corridors, we force these animals onto private pastureland where they put extra pressure on cattle ranchers and farmers. Plus, it has the added benefit of keeping herds healthy and huntable and supporting our local hunting and fishing industry.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation found that hunters and anglers like me invest $1.6 billion in Washington every year.
Thankfully in Washington, we have representatives like Congressman Dave Reichert working to make sure our communities have the resources we need to ensure access to the outdoors for all. We can’t manufacture more land. Hunters could find themselves locked out of their favorite wildlife area, anglers could be without a boat launch, and our kids could have fewer places to play and explore.
Washington’s identity and livelihood have been tied to the land since the frontier days, significantly contributing to both our quality of life and our economy. We need to continue that legacy.
Fred Slyfield worked for the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years, attained the rank of sergeant and was the county emergency management specialist, search and rescue coordinator and county representative for Region 7 Homeland Security. He enjoys outdoor activities who wants to see the county and other recreational areas of Washington preserved by good sound stewardship for future generations.