Call to Action: Time is short to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Time is short to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund! You can help. Please contact your congressional representatives and urge them to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Can you imagine what the Sierra Nevada or the North Cascades might look like if our nation hadn’t had the vision to set aside our national forests? Would the Pacific Crest Trail experience be as dramatic and life changing if you were able to drive to a four-star resort on the shore of Thousand Island?

Over its 2,650 miles, the Pacific Crest Trail crosses 48 federal wilderness areas – roughly half of the trail. The rest crosses an amalgam of national forests, national parks, state parks and even private properties. About 10 percent of the PCT remains on private land.

The PCT connects these special landscapes, helping to protect wildlife and clean air and water sources for future generations while providing all of us with tremendous places to reflect and experience nature. These places and the visionary ideas behind them are testaments to what we can do as a nation.

Our society has conserved these open spaces through hard-hitting laws. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the landmark legislation that created our wilderness preservation system and made a national cause of our desire to save the country’s best natural landscapes. This year, we are fighting to save another landmark legislative achievement, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the twin sister of the Wilderness Act. This funding mechanism will expire if Congress does not reauthorize it by Sept 30.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund protects our incredible country.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund protects our incredible country.

It has been crucial to the protection of the PCT. Over the last 15 years, approximately $25 million from the fund has been used to acquire and permanently protect more than 17,000 acres along the trail. And there is much more work to be done. Some 1,500 parcels along the PCT are still held by private landowners who could build homes, install power lines or clear-cut their trees – a sad truth for a National Scenic Trail.

For example, in the Cascade Range east of Seattle, Washington, PCTA, the Trust for Public Land, the Plum Creek Timber Co. and the U.S. Forest Service have worked together to create a mostly public-owned corridor for the trail on what was a checkerboard of national forest and private timber production properties. We did this with money from the LWCF.

While these properties are not wilderness and never will be, they are important to providing a great experience for PCT users. What’s more, they are quickly and easily accessible to the millions who live in western Washington. The PCT is their local hiking trail.

Without LWCF money, there is no way we will complete the transformation of this or two similar private-public checkerboard areas along the PCT. That’s why reauthorization of the LWCF is so important.

The LWCF Coalition describes the law this way:

Founded in 1964 to conserve America’s natural and cultural heritage, LWCF is dedicated to the continued conservation of our iconic national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness, Civil War battlefields, and important historic sites, as well as developing state and local parks, working forests, connecting urban youth to nature, providing hunting and angling access, helping to protect threatened and endangered species and protecting water quality and drinking water.

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 elsewhere that might otherwise be developed or exploited. You can see LWCF projects in your area as well as on the PCT here.

This started as a great and noble venture, though its execution has been less than admirable because Congress has constantly raided the fund. Most of the money intended for land protection – $900 million annually under the current law – has been diverted to other causes in the federal budget. Only once in the 50-year history of the program has Congress appropriated the entire $900 million for its intended purpose. The backlog of unmet conservation needs has ballooned as a result.

Pacific-Crest-Trail-sign

Take action for the Pacific Crest Trail. Please call Congress today!

It’s not surprising. There is a small but growing movement in this country not only to stop the government from buying more land, but also to divest itself of much of the land it owns. And the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the business end of America’s land preservation program. From our perspective, ending it would be a huge mistake.

In January, PCTA hired Megan Wargo, our first land protection director. We are working to quantify our land protection needs and establish a program to protect those remaining acres from the bulldozer. Our ultimate goal as an organization is to ensure that the PCT and its surrounding landscapes are there for future generations to enjoy.

While we will need to raise a lot of private money, the Land and Water Conservation Funds will be vital, not only to our long-term success on the PCT, but to realizing the full potential of many of our sister trails in the National Trails System.

A bipartisan bill to permanently reauthorize the fund is stalled in Congress. That bill if passed and signed by President Obama, would provide dedicated annual funding of $900 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congress would not be able to dip into the pot to pay for other things as it has in the past. The land-preservation promise that was made to the American people 50 years ago finally would be fulfilled.

You can help. Please contact your congressional representatives and urge them to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Without this source of money, our goal to fully protect the Pacific Crest Trail will become much more difficult.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is PCTA's Associate Director of Communications and Marketing. Formerly a reporter for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore., Larabee is a nationally recognized journalist, part of a team of reporters and editors who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.

Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton