In fewer than 100 days, the nation’s Land and Water Conservation Fund will run out of money.
TIME is running out for America’s premier conservation and outdoor recreation program. There are fewer than 100 days until the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) expires after 50 years of strong bipartisan support. This wonderful federal program works to secure our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and helps open our public lands for outdoor recreation.
The fund is built on a simple idea: As we sell off one natural resource owned by the public, we should reinvest some of that money into opening our natural treasures for future generations. The program is entirely funded with royalties from offshore drilling. This means that the LWCF does not receive a dime of taxpayer money. Instead, each year, $900 million from the drilling leases paid by oil and gas companies is supposed to be invested in parks and outdoor recreation for all Americans.
In Congress, I worked hard to ensure strong investment in the LWCF. Unfortunately, for all but one of its 50 years, Congress has diverted a majority of its funding for unrelated purposes.
The fund has invested $600 million in Washington state, protecting our outdoor treasures — from the peaks of the Cascades to the valleys of the Olympic rain forest, the shores of Puget Sound to the Columbia River Gorge. These are the incredible natural areas that enrich all Washingtonians with their stunning beauty, opportunities for recreation and clean water. The national parks and wildlife refuges the fund protects are where we go to camp, hike, hunt and fish — a part of our outdoor heritage that I hope to pass on to my grandchildren.
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However, protecting public lands isn’t only a matter of making sure Washington’s families have places to play — it is about preserving a strong sector of our economy. Our many outdoor treasures draw tourists here from across the world. Outdoor recreation supports almost 200,000 jobs across Washington — more than the aerospace or technology sectors — and contributes $21.6 billion in consumer spending to our economy.
Numerous Washington state projects would be lost if the fund is not reauthorized. At-risk proposals would protect regional job engines, like preserving historic farmland at Whidbey Island and purchasing working forest easements at Mount St. Helens. Acquisition projects would promote water security by preventing human waste from washing into Olympic National Park’s Lake Quinault and protecting the Yakima River’s watershed — critical investments for both recreation and commercial fishing. Also on the list are initiatives to preserve the iconic Pacific Crest Trail.
As communities across our state continue to grow, we must provide new parks for our kids, protect and develop access to our trails, and keep our air and water clean. We cannot do this without support from the fund.
A bipartisan poll found that 85 percent of Americans support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Across party lines, eight in 10 voters said the public receives its money’s worth when we invest in protecting water, land, air and wildlife.
The pact between the American people and their government will be broken unless we see some much-needed leadership from Congress in defense of our outdoor economy and natural heritage. Washington is the birthplace of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and Washington’s U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with many members of our House delegation, remain champions of the program.
But the clock is ticking. We need Congress to rise to the challenge and reauthorize the LWCF. It is imperative that our leaders continue to lead the way in preserving our premier outdoor recreation and conservation program.