The fate of one of the nation's oldest, most effective conservation programs is now being deliberated in the U.S. House of Representatives. Called the “Land and Water Conservation Fund,” (LWCF) the money in the fund comes from the royalties paid by offshore oil and gas developers to pay for a long list of projects bolstering America's parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and other public open spaces.
Since the fund was established in 1965, the LWCF has proven to be one of the most effective tools for conserving habitat and sustaining public access in every part of the country. Indiana and Illinois together have benefitted to the tune of almost $300 million in the past five decades. That means $600 has gone to projects from local parks to creation of National Wildlife Refuges since the LWCF grants are always 50/50 with the local, state or national agency paying half to get the LWCF matching amounts.
Unlike some federal programs that just keep going and going, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has to be re-authorized periodically. Generally, for the past 50 years the projects and grants have passed scrutiny and the re-approval process has been relatively painless for this program which always enjoys bipartisan support in the legislature.
In July, Rep. Rob Bishop, (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, promised to block all attempts to save the program “unless significant changes are made to its structure,” he said. Conservation and outdoor recreation groups across the country heavily criticized Rep. Bishop and waited to see the specifics of his proposals.
Once the specifics were made public, House members from both sides of the aisle have denounced the legislation.
Now on the table are a number of provisions formulated by Bishop. Some are not much more than fluff added to buffer the one’s deemed most hurtful by conservation groups. Here are a few deemed most egregious:
Currently, management agencies often work with private landowners to create easements or other opportunities to allow public access to public lands, lakes and rivers. Bishop’s legislation seeks to reduce or eliminate opportunities to create conservation easements or work with private partners on projects to conserve or protect private landholdings rather than develop them.
Bishop’s legislation seeks to redirect 20 percent of LWCF funds to "workforce education," such as training programs for corporations that employ oil and gas industry workers. Workforce education for such workers is important, especially training to show how to develop and operate oil and gas facilities with the least environmental impact. But shouldn’t this education be a part of the cost of production for the energy companies, not American citizens?
The LWCF has a proven history of being a good economic investment. Besides the opportunities for outdoor recreations of all sorts, it’s estimated these projects create a $645 billion economy when outdoor recreation jobs, sales of equipment and other benefits are tallied together.
Bishop’s move places establishing or enlarging parks, wildlife refuges and forests on the table increasing the likelihood those lands will be converted to commercial development. *It also diverts money from efforts to protect and expand access for hunting and fishing and bleeds away critical resources to enhance fish and wildlife habitat, compromising the $90 billion dollars sportsmen and women annually contribute to our nation's economy.
The battle for continuation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund with its 50 year history of successes has started. It will be interesting to see how it ends.
For more information, visit http://lwcfcoalition.org/