Protecting our land and water used to be above politics. It should be again.
Iroquois wisdom held that we should think ahead seven generations. Today, too often, we seem challenged to think ahead even one.
The consequences fall not only on our kids, but the new generation of other species, like our region’s iconic orcas. Our resident pods, starved for the chinook salmon that make up 80 percent of their diet, have now dwindled to 75 members. So, probably like you, I was devastated to learn that a new calf, the first in three years, died shortly after birth. His grief-stricken mother, unable to say goodbye, has been pushing it’s body around the Sound, keeping it close.
One of the proud achievements of my organization, Forterra, is working with a group of determined partners to save shoreline along Maury Island, where now and again you get a heart-stopping view of a breaching orca. A moment like that is captured in a large photo hanging in my office. We never weary of looking at it; it says so much about this region, its beauty, its bounty, its possibilities.
And, as we’ve now been painfully reminded, its vulnerability. Given all the pressure on this region from growing population and galloping climate change, is there really an argument about securing — now — the places that will be keystones of a sustainable future? Seed corn, retirement savings, life insurance — pick your analogy. It just makes sense to think ahead.
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The obstacle, as in so many things, is resources. It takes money. Fortunately, for the last 50 years there’s been a reliable base on which many conservation projects can get started. It’s a federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. A better name might be the Land and Water for Children Fund.
It uses not a dollar of taxpayer money. Rather, it employs royalties from oil and natural gas leases, helping protect places all across the U.S. important for their beauty, environmental role or recreation value.
Originally championed by our state’s legendary senator, Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, the fund has always had bipartisan support, including today. Legislation to re-authorize the program — set to expire on Sept. 30 — is spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund costs taxpayers nothing and benefits them entirely,” says Burr, simply.
The across-the-aisle support is easy to understand. Here in Washington, LWCF has been important in saving parts of Mount Rainier National Park, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Sunset Park in Spokane, Salmon Creek Park in Vancouver, Crawford State Park in Pend Oreille County, Mercer Slough Ecological Preserve in Bellevue, Palouse River Park in Pullman, Bogachiel River Boat Launch in Clallam County, Copalis Beach in Grays Harbor County, Ravenna and Gas Works Parks in Seattle, the Sunnyside Wildlife Recreation Area in Yakima County — and the list goes on. All told, the LWCF has invested $637 million in more than 600 projects in our state.
Across the country, the LWCF has put nearly $17 billion into protecting parks, trails, rivers, shorelines, and boat launches — meaning no matter where you live, and no matter how you like to enjoy the outdoors, LWCF has probably touched a place you know and love.
So what’s the catch? Like so much, LWCF has been swept up in partisan politics. Apart from U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, for many years a stand-up leader on LWCF, our state’s Republican House delegation seems poised to vote no.
The natural legacy we leave to future generations shouldn’t be part of the political scrum. The stakes are just too high — and, truly, who doesn’t value the many treasures LWCF safeguards — and the many more it will in the future? Look at one of the online maps of LWCF projects and see the impact of this visionary program. Then contact your senators and representative and tell them to do the right thing.
If we want new generations — of all creatures — to fully thrive, we have to leave the earth as beautiful and bountiful as we found it. LWCF plays a vital part, and it’s remarkable that there’s even a controversy given all it has accomplished and how it’s paid for. For our children, for the orca, for this place — our place — it’s time for action. Permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.