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The Land and Water Conservation Fund Turns 50

25 Jul 2014  |   Phoebe Long

Tags: Public Lands

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s (LWCF) passage by the House of Representatives. This fund was designed to guarantee the protection and conservation of many of America’s natural treasures, and its existence allows all Americans greater access to public lands, waterways and open spaces. However, as the LWCF celebrates its 50th birthday, it could experience a mid-life crisis as its expiration approaches next summer. Without reauthorization by Congress, the LWCF will disappear forever and America’s outdoor heritage will be in jeopardy. To keep protecting America’s open spaces, Congress must re-authorize LWCF and provide full and permanent funding.  

In order to celebrate LWCF’s 50th anniversary, a group of bipartisan legislators came together to honor what is America’s most important conservation program. On Wednesday, conservation leaders in the Senate and House gave a press conference announcing the release of a 50th anniversary report, entitled “50 Years of Conserving America the Beautiful.” Among these leaders was Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA),  Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR). All members of Congress pledged their ongoing support for LWCF, and discussed its impacts in their respective states.  Senator Collins emphasized the importance of environmental protection by stating, “In states like Maine, the environment is the economy.” 

The LWCF Coalition’s 50th Anniversary report was also highlighted at the press conference. The  report  calls for a full re-authorization for LWCF with full and permanent funding, its primary purpose, but also gives an in-depth look at some of LWCF’s most important work over the past five decades. It highlights some of LWCF’s most iconic sights, has breakdowns of funding, and suggests where LWCF can be useful in the future. Included in the report is a Foreword by former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Henry Diamond, editor of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission for President Kennedy -- the commission that led to the creation of the LWCF. 

Later in the anniversary celebration,  Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was joined by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator John Tester (D-MT), and celebrity hunter Randy Newberg for a second press conference. Together, they continued the plea to Congress for permanent funding and reauthorization of the LWCF. "What's politically practical? How do we make this happen?" Secretary Jewell asked. "We can talk to folks out in the community and they say, 'Yes, yes, yes, that makes sense.' ... But we have to make the case here. So that's certainly what I've been doing over the last few days," she explained. 

However, Secretary Jewell noted that she doesn’t believe LWCF should be funded at the expense of other EPA programs. “We certainly don't want to have full support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in exchange for important programs in EPA. And we do think that there's enough room in the budget overall to prioritize this program,” she said.

If Congress allows the fund to expire, LWCF funding will disappear altogether. This would be a mistake, and would leave the creation of new parks in jeopardy. Only Congress has the power to re-authorize LWCF and provide it with full and permanent funding. But the LWCF is more than just a conservation program; the lands and waters it serves are crucial to the US economy. The outdoor recreation industry annually brings in $730 billion to the U.S. economy, and supports 6.5 million non-exportable jobs. LWCF provides protection for a wide range of historic battlefields, expansive forests and treasured wildlife refuges. The Land and Water Conservation fund is responsible for more than 40,000 state and local outdoor projects, from baseball fields to refuges to recreational waterways. 

We encourage you to check out the 50th anniversary report and find out how the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped in your community.

(Photograph is from Angi English Flickr Account)

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