[Seattle, WA] The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which brings together 280 corporate and nonprofit partners, spoke out against a draft discussion bill which would fundamentally change the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), America’s most important conservation and recreation program.
The bill was proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected Washington’s most important places for 50 years. It’s a program that works,” said Melissa Stuart, Acting Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. “From Mt. Rainier to the Columbia River Gorge, boat launches to ball fields, LWCF has made Washington the great place to live and work that it is today. Congress needs to reauthorize and fully fund the program, not eliminate opportunities for communities.”
“The recent House LWCF proposal cuts funding for the Forest Legacy Program, our nation’s best program to keep our working forests in production, by 80%”, said Jon Rose, President of Olympic Property Group, a subsidiary of Pope Resources. “This would be highly detrimental to working forests and forestry workers across our nation, and particularly here on the west coast, where we have a strong forestry heritage and economy.”
Bishop’s proposal would reauthorize LWCF for seven years, but divert much of its funding to unrelated purposes, including promoting offshore oil exploration and oil worker training. Under the current program, around half of funds go to projects for our national lands. Bishop’s proposal limits federal projects to 3.5 percent of fund, and no more than 15% of the acres acquired could be west of the 100th meridian, which runs through North Dakota and Texas.
Bishop’s proposal differs significantly from the bipartisan compromise bill to update and reauthorize LWCF that was spearheaded by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Murkowski (R-AK) and recently passed overwhelmingly (18-4) by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As part of the Energy Modernization Act of 2015 (S. 2012), that proposal would permanently reauthorize LWCF and maintain existing Congressional control over how the fund is allocated and spent, with 40% of funds going to federal land projects and 40% to state projects.
It was Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson who first introduced the original Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1964. Since then, LWCF has invested over half a billion dollars for state and federal land conservation projects in Washington alone, providing grants to hundreds of state and local parks, trails, fishing access sites, and recreational facilities, and supporting working forests.
If reauthorized and kept intact, LWCF could fund a number of proposed projects across Washington state in 2016, including:
- Filling in gaps along the Pacific Crest Trail to protect safety and ensure continued public access.
- Forest Legacy Program conservation easements to protect working forests at Mt. St. Helens and promote sustainable forestry.
- Federal acquisition of properties in the Lake Quinault area of the Olympic National to protect local fisheries and curb sewage dumping that is threatening water quality.
- The preservation of 165 acres of historic farmland dating back to the 1850’s at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island through conservation easements.
- The protection of the Yakima River watershed to protect important water resources in the Yakima Basin and provide clean water for local farms, fisheries, and communities.
What is LWCF?
Created by Congress in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the nation’s premier federal grant program for conservation and outdoor recreation. The program uses no taxpayer dollars. Instead, $900 million in offshore oil and gas lease revenue is meant to be invested in parks and outdoor recreation opportunities each year. However, a majority of LWCF funds have been diverted for unrelated purposes.
About the Coalition
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition is a non-profit citizens group founded in a historic bipartisan effort by former Governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry. The Coalition promotes public funding for Washington’s outdoors through the state Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Members consist of a diverse group of over 280 organizations representing conservation, business, recreation, hunting, fishing, farming and community interests. The breadth and diversity of the Coalition is the key to its success — no one member could secure such a high level of funding for parks and habitat on its own.