LWCF Op-Ed by Gretchen Starke and Richard Dyrland
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-Tailed Deer. It’s a natural treasure of more than 5,600 acres that sits along the Columbia River near Cathlamet, and branches down to Oregon. This pristine landscape provides refuge not only for the endangered Columbian white-tailed deer but also river otter and a wide range of wintering birds.
There wouldn’t be an anniversary to celebrate, however, if it weren’t for the Land and Water Conservation Fund which helped make it all possible.
For nearly half a century, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has benefited states and local communities with conservation and outdoor-recreation needs. The LWCF is a dedicated fund and not a tax, paid for using a portion of the receipts from offshore oil and gas leases. It was conceived and launched in a bipartisan spirit to preserve and enhance parks, habitat and wildlands.
One of the fund’s original champions was the refuge’s namesake, U.S. Rep. Julia Butler Hansen of Cathlamet, who represented what is today’s 3rd Congressional District from 1960 to 1974. Recently, freshman U.S. Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, who occupies Hansen’s seat, voted in favor of an amendment to zero-out funding for the LWCF. The amendment was defeated.
In an age of fiscal austerity, cutting fat from the federal budget is critical. It’s here where Rep. Herrera Beutler may have had a misunderstanding: The LWCF is neither fat nor a tax, but a dedicated funding source. Today, ironically, the LWCF’s very survival is at risk by a let-no-fund-go-diverted mindset. It’s an attitude that runs counter to the budget-hawk and fiscal-integrity approach that’s so clearly required.
Good for economy
Over the decades, LWCF projects have added up to half-a-billion dollars for Washington state and supported an outdoor-recreation industry that draws $11.7 billion to our region’s economy. In addition to the Hansen refuge, projects in the 3rd Congressional District have included the Cedar Forest on Long Island in Willapa Bay as well as additions to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. The LWCF is also critical to protecting Tukes Mountain outside of Battle Ground, the Salmon Creek watershed, the Lewis River, and dozens of other threatened places that are part of our natural heritage.
Not only does the fund help preserve the natural beauty of our state, but it also contributes to Washington’s economy. According to a study by the Trust for Public Land, every $1 dollar invested returns $4 in the form of natural resource goods and services. In addition, 77 percent of Americans support the LWCF, according to the LWCF Coalition.
The late Julia Butler Hansen was by nature an optimist. Let’s hope that once Rep. Herrera Beutler understands what’s at stake — from outdoor recreation to the environmental legacy we give to our children — she will reconsider her decision to support legislation that would gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Gretchen Starke is conservation chair of the Vancouver Audubon Society (http://www.vancouveraudubon.org). Richard Dyrland is president of the Friends of the East Fork (http://www.eastforklewisriver.org).