It’s time to double down on land conservation and support the LWCF

It’s widely known that today is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed on Sept. 3, 1964. Wilderness lovers and champions across the country are celebrating the immensity of the law that has set aside more than 100 million acres.

The Pacific Crest Trail crosses 48 federal wilderness areas. These special landscapes help protect clean air and water sources for future generations while providing all of us with tremendous places to reflect and experience nature.

What many people don’t know about today is that it’s also the birthday of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This important fund is the twin sister of the Wilderness Act, created a year later to help pay for wilderness preservation. It’s the business end of America’s land preservation program. Many of the parcels along the PCT were paid for and became public land with Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars.

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The fund sets aside a small percentage of the royalties from offshore energy production for state and federal conservation programs. Think of it as a mitigation program. Oil and gas explorers pay the American people for the rights to extract energy with the realistic expectation of environmental impacts, and then a small portion of what they pay is set aside to preserve lands that might otherwise be developed or exploited.

In the last decade PCTA and the U.S. Forest Service have ramped up protection of threatened parcels along the PCT using the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And the need for more conservation money for the PCT is great. Some 200 miles of the PCT – actual trail tread – falls on privately owned land. These landowners can cut their trees, build a house or sell to a utility for a new power line.

PCTA and the Forest Service have identified 1,500 parcels, or 200,000 acres that are needed not only to complete the trail, but also to protect the views and the experiences users will have as they make their journeys into the wild. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is crucial, not only to our long-term success on the PCT, but to realizing the full potential of many of the trails in our National Trails System.

Sadly, this important and widely popular program is under siege. Congress constantly raids the fund. Most of the money intended for land protection – $900 million annually under the current law – is spent elsewhere in the federal budget. The backlog of unmet conservation needs balloons as a result.

Through the Partnership for the National Trails System, we are urging Congress to approve $350 million in Land and Water Conservation Funds for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1. Of that, the National Trails System would receive $30 million, including $4.1 million for the PCT. This is money allocated to federal agencies in the president’s budget but has yet to be approved by Congress.

Our partners in the federal land management agencies are already working on the fiscal year 2016 budget and will be seeking another $65.2 million to pay for land acquisition projects across the National Trails System, including $8.1 million for projects along the PCT.

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There is even more at stake. When it turns 50 in September 2015, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire. It’s up for reauthorization: Senate Bill 338 is a bipartisan bill that would provide dedicated annual funding of $900 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, finally fulfilling the promise that was made to the American people 50 years ago.

Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the opportunity to buy hundreds of critical parcels across the country – for sale by willing owners – may vanish. The great irony is that Congress approved all the National Trails and those same paths they elevated to National status are now at risk.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Contact your elected representatives (www.contactingthecongress.org) and urge them to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $350 million for fiscal year 2015 and to support reauthorization.
  • Contact the offices of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers and Interior Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert and urge them to hold a vote on the spending package for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
  • Urge your Senators to sign onto Senate Bill 338 – the Land and Water Conservation Fund Authorization and Funding Act of 2013.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Associate Director of Communications and Marketing. He is editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and manages the association's advocacy efforts. He is co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.