By Brent Martin • Guest Columnist
The craziness of this year’s mid-term elections has passed. The campaign advertisements and signs are coming down. The dust is starting to settle. But one thing should remain top of mind for those Senators returning to conclude the 111th Congress — there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Members of Congress should also take note that even in the midst of a difficult economy and political sea change there continues to be strong and bipartisan voter support for investments in land conservation and parks. On Election Day, voters approved 28 of 35 (80 percent) of state and local measures on the ballot to finance land conservation and parks, including statewide measures in Oregon, Iowa, Maine and Rhode Island. In Arizona, voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop 301 that would have raided voter-approved open space funds and put them to the general budget if approved.
With public support for conservation and recreation in mind, one issue facing senators as they return for the lame duck session on Nov. 15 is the need to finally provide consistency for a program that has done more for local communities and our country than most people realize. Signed into law in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was designed to dedicate a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas development for land conservation and outdoor recreation throughout the country — a promise that has been chronically unfulfilled.
LWCF was supposed to receive $900 million per year — a drop in the bucket of offshore revenues that typically tally well over $5 billion — but has been shortchanged by Congress nearly every year, with revenues regularly being diverted to other purposes. Full funding has been appropriated only once in the LWCF’s 46-year history and recently declined to a low of $138 million in 2007. This shortfall has resulted in a huge backlog of unmet funding needs for land protection and outdoor recreation for our federal public lands, and state and local parks.
And yet in spite of rarely receiving its due, LWCF has been instrumental in many of the places that are most dear to us as a nation. From local parks and playgrounds, where kids can get outside to play, to greenbelts and recreational trails that connect and enhance local communities, to state parks that provide hiking, biking, and camping and help to sustain wildlife, to federal public lands used for hunting, fishing, paddling, and our most pristine national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas — LWCF has provided a continuum of conservation that has touched us all. Close to home, LWCF has provided over $60 million and protected almost 40,000 acres in North Carolina since its inception in 1964, protecting places like Catawba Falls, the Appalachian Trail, and Lake James.
Given the tragic oil spill in the Gulf this summer, the vision behind the Land and Water Conservation Fund is even more relevant than ever and now is the time for action. In a national bipartisan poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and FM3 in May, 85 percent of respondents view the LWCF as more important today in light of the oil spill. And now, with the offshore moratorium having been lifted once again and the oil spill still fresh in our minds, it is only right to ensure that some of the revenues from the use of this resource are used to protect our precious land resources.
On July 30, the U.S. House of Representatives took on this challenge by passing the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act of 2010, H.R. 3534, including full, dedicated funding for LWCF with the support of Congressman Heath Shuler (D-NC). In addition, LWCF was a centerpiece of the Administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors” listening sessions throughout the country this summer and is expected to be a priority as that initiative continues to take shape.
But the Senate needs to act in order to capture this opportunity and momentum to finally ensure LWCF receives its due. Please write Senators Burr and Hagan and encourage them to work with Senate leadership to ensure that full and dedicated LWCF funding is included in energy or other relevant legislation and enacted before the end of this Congress.