A provision, passed in the U.S. Senate, to provide funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was dropped from the final Surface Transportation reauthorization bill.
LWCF does not use taxpayer dollars. Instead, it uses funds generated by the depletion of one public resource – oil and gas royalties from the Outer Continental Shelf – to protect the nation's public lands. Although the fund is authorized to receive up to $900 million per year, Congress has routinely diverted LWCF funds for other uses.
“Conservation leaders, hunters, anglers, business owners and communities will continue to come together to work for land and water conservation funds this year,” said Joanna Grist, director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. “They know that LWCF is a win-win for our natural heritage, quality of life, and taxpayers. We hope that Congress understands that as well.”
San Juan Preservation Trust and Friends of the San Juans are members of the WWRC.
Despite broad bipartisan congressional support for LWCF, and urging from more than 1,000 constituent organizations, including Washington timber companies, sportsmen and countless small businesses dependent on preserving the state’s natural resources, the final bill approved by the conference committee and passed by the House and Senate did not include a Senate-passed provision to fund the LWCF at $700 million per year for the next two years, and to reauthorize the program through 2022.
Those funds would have enabled multiple land protection projects, including having provided access to Mt. Rainier National Park, and protected scenic lands along the Pacific Crest Trail, wildlife habitat in Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, as well as working forest lands along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Pysht Coastal Forest.
"The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a proven conservation program with a legacy of success and bipartisan support -- all funded without new taxes. These investments would have not only maintained our heritage of clean air, water and wildlife habitat," said Joe Hyer, owner of the Alpine Experience, a retail store in Olympia. "As a small-business owner, I can attest that they are also essential for our economy. Protecting our public lands drives tourism and supports local recreation-based businesses, supporting 115,000 jobs across our state."
The LWCF provision had strong support from U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as Representatives Dave Reichert, Rick Larsen, Norm Dicks, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith. Rep. Reichert was one of 32 Republican House members who signed a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner urging inclusion of LWCF funding in the transportation bill. In an additional bipartisan show of support, nearly 150 Democratic House members signed a letter urging transportation conferees to include the Senate-passed funding for LWCF in the final transportation bill.
For 50 years, LWCF funds have helped protect places like Deception Pass, Mt. Si, Mt. Rainier, Olympic National Park, Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, and Mt. St Helens, and has provided matching grants to help create hundreds of local and state parks that Washington families visit every day.
While the transportation bill didn’t provide LWCF funding, there is still an opportunity through the appropriations process. Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Committee is seeking to cut LWCF by 80 percent from the previous year.
About the WWRC The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition (WWRC) is a non-profit citizens group founded in a historic bipartisan effort by former Governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry. A diverse group of over 250 organizations representing conservation, business, recreation, hunting, fishing, farming, and community interests, the Coalition’s breadth and diversity helps secure a level of funding for parks and habitat that individuals could not achieve alone.
About the LWCF The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) supports federal acquisition and conservation easements of our nation's most precious lands and waters, and provides matching funds for state and local entities to acquire and develop recreational opportunities in almost every county of the nation. The Forest Legacy Program, which is funded through LWCF, provides grants to states to protect working forests and water quality and provide access for recreation. Created in 1965, the LWCF is authorized to receive $900 million annually in federal revenue from oil and gas leasing of the Outer Continental Shelf. The LWCF, however, has been chronically short-changed in the annual budget and appropriations process, with funding consistently diverted to other purposes.