The clock is ticking on America’s most important conservation program
Here are five reasons why Congress should save the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
By Tom Cors, Director of Conservation Finance at The Nature Conservancy
You may have not heard of a federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but you have surely benefited from it and unless Congress acts soon, it will expire on September 30th. If it does in fact expire, it will leave every American with an enormous lost opportunity to further invest in the very things that we cherish most. There’s a lot at stake for America’s most important conservation program.
Here are five good reasons why Congress should act now to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
© Fly fishing in the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. Photo: Simon Williams.
• For 50 years, the LWCF has provided critical funding for land and water conservation projects.
Since 1965, the program has helped protect parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas at the local, state and federal level from coast-to-coast. It has invested more than $16 billion for land and water conservation and outdoor recreation across every state and several territories. It has evolved to include programs that help productive forests stay in private hands; protect historic battlefields and safeguard critical habitat. But its core remains unchanged and as valid as ever: protect America’s lands and waters.
© Footpath on the Konza Prairie in Kansas. Photo: Chris Helzer.
• LWCF does not use taxpayer dollars.
LWCF is fully paid for without relying on the support of American taxpayer dollars. LWCF investments come from a small portion of federal offshore oil and gas revenues every year. The program reinvests these revenues from the sale of one national resource into the protection of our shared natural resources and iconic landmarks, ensuring outdoor recreation for all Americans. LWCF is a simple asset-for-asset conservation arrangement that honors the principles of fiscal responsibility while safeguarding our nation’s shared outdoor heritage for future generations.
• LWCF dollars have helped projects in all 50 states and 98 percent of all U.S. counties.
Since 1965, LWCF has supported protection of 3 million acres of recreation land and more than 29,000 recreation facilities, matched by local moneys and driven by local priorities. These projects include creating or enhancing local bathing beaches, state parks, working farms and forests, wildlife refuges, national forests, historic battlefields, cultural sites and access for hiking, hunting, fishing and countless other activities. Some of the parks LWCF has boosted include those in cities and suburbs, allowing millions of Americans a better chance to connect with nature.
© The Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. Photo: Robert Granzow.
• LWCF investments in our lands and waters are essential to economic prosperity.
The collective strength of LWCF-supported projects around the country is a lasting investment in the outdoor recreation industry, a sector with a $646 billion economic impact, supporting 6.1 million jobs. But there’s a more significant economic benefit for companies: nature’s ability to attract employees. In a report about LWCF’s economic benefits economist Ray Rasker noted that companies attract employees who place a premium on locating in places with amenities. “The bulk of the economic value of public lands lies in its ability to attract people — and their businesses — who want to live near protected lands for quality of life reasons,” Rasker wrote.
• Communities thrive where we invest in our lands and waters.
There’s a broader role that nature and natural systems play in sustaining thriving communities. I sometimes sum up those benefits by saying, “nature is not just nice; it is essential.” Protecting forests through LWCF also helps store and sustain clean water. Protecting and restoring our coasts can help safeguard communities from storm surges. In Massachusetts, for example, LWCF investments around the Quabbin Reservoir have helped the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to only minimally treat the water, saving the state millions of dollars a year.
As September 30 quickly approaches, let Congress know that the Land and Water Conservation Fund has built a legacy that should continue for another 50 years. It’s an investment we can’t afford to lose.