Land and water fund needs federal support

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Quiz time — have you ever heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)? Do you know what it does? If not, read on.

For 50 years, LWCF has provided billions in capital investments for recreation and conservation. It is arguably America’s most important conservation program.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a visit to a national or state park, a wildlife refuge, a historic site, or a recreation area at the federal, state, or local level, LWCF dollars probably helped make those areas possible.

In fact, LWCF has helped finance everything from local playgrounds, soccer fields and baseball diamonds, to projects at California’s Big Sur and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

In 1965, Congress passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act to provide the money to buy land and maintain infrastructure at a diverse array of recreational locations. Looking ahead. It expires Sept. 30.

Fifty years flew by in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, conservation leaders from across the country and like-minded Congressional leaders have been looking ahead to ensure the LWCF’s reauthorization. But it’s not yet a done deal.

A coalition of congressmen/women and senators has been working on the LWCF reauthorization for more than a year, and just last week Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Arkansas) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) announced a bipartisan agreement to permanently authorize the LWCF.

The deal reaffirms to the American people that a portion of revenue derived from offshore oil and gas development is dedicated to protect America’s irreplaceable natural, historic, and recreational outdoor resources.

The agreement is part of a recently proposed energy bill. Over the next few weeks, letters of support for LWCF to your congressional representatives will be important. Contact information for members of Congress can be found at www.contactingthecongress.org.

The best part about LWCF is its funding mechanism. It uses no taxpayer dollars. Instead, it relies on a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments. These resources belong to the American people. Oil and gas companies pay a royalty fee to the federal government when they extract these resources.

Supprting conservation

It only seems right that the oil and gas industry should pay their fair share to support conservation, historic preservation, and outdoor recreation.

Since the LWCF supports national parks, it’s worth mentioning that the National Park System celebrates its 100th anniversary next year. More than 292 million people visited 408 national park locations last year.

These parks protect and conserve scenic natural areas such as the Grand Canyon, the Great Smokey Mountain, the Florida Everglades, Maine’s Acadia National Park, and Colorado’s Rocky Mountains National Park.

The Park Service also manages places that celebrate history and local heritage such as West Virginia’s Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and Pennsylvania’s Fort Necessity National Battlefield.

Value of parks

Though I’m sure there are people who have never taken advantage of the U. S. National Park System, the greatest in the world, let me explain what a value it is.

The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series covers entrance fees to national parks and national wildlife refuges and standard amenity fees such as use of picnic areas and trails at national forests and grasslands and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation.

A pass covers fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle. Children age 15 and under are admitted free.

An annual pass, available to anyone, costs $80. An annual pass for active military members and their dependents is free.

An annual pass for U.S. citizens with permanent disabilities is free. And if you are a U.S. citizen and age 62 or older, a lifetime pass is $10. Passes may be purchased in person at federal recreation sites or online at http://store.usgs.gov/pass.

If these deals sound too good to be true, beware. There are those in Congress who would like to privatize and profit from these invaluable public lands.

Be prepared to fight for affordable access to federal lands when the privateers make their case.

 

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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