Close but yet so far on Land and Water Conservation Fund renewal

We are a month away from zero hour.

On Jan. 3, 2019, the 115th Congress will turn out the lights for good. Before that happens, we’re pressing Congressional leaders to take up some important unfinished business regarding land protection. Of course I’m talking about the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association and many others in the outdoor recreation and conservation communities have been urging this Congress to renew the program for the last two years to no avail. They are close, with bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed by relevant committees. We now have less than 30 days to get it done — given the upcoming holidays, less than that, realistically speaking.

The Pacific Crest Trail in the North Cascades. Photo by David Xiao.

The LWCF has been called one of the best conservation programs in the country. Congress created it in 1965, setting aside up to $900 million a year from lease payments made by companies drilling offshore for oil and natural gas. This money comes at no direct cost to taxpayers and is mitigation for environmental damage.

The LWCF has purchased land in all 50 states. It has built serene parks and walkways along downtown rivers, and ballfields and playgrounds for children in inner cities. It has provided money to set aside property for national parks and wildlife refuges. It has saved sacred battlefields and other historic and cultural sites. It has protected forests and crucial wildlife habitat, including many special places along the PCT.

Over the last 17 years, almost $36 million from the LWCF has been used to acquire and permanently protect about 23,000 acres along the PCT. With 10 percent of the Pacific Crest Trail and a number of important nearby viewshed properties still owned by private individuals and companies, we’ll need the LWCF to fully protect the PCT experience for future generations.

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There is much at stake and members of Congress know this. Liberals and conservatives in both the House and Senate have worked together on a range of bills that will solve pressing issues facing our public lands, including renewal of the LWCF. We are heartened by their efforts. Enough members in both chambers have expressed their support for these bills to easily pass. It’s now up to House and Senate leaders to schedule the votes.

“This is a juggernaut when it comes to an ingredient for our economy,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington during a recent LWCF press conference. “The fact that we give people access to our public lands helps grow jobs, gives our citizens recreational opportunities and gives our communities a peace of mind and wholeness that is so important in the United States of America.”

In a recent editorial in The Hill, Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of REI, expressed hope that this Congress, “could produce the most significant outdoor recreation package in recent history.”

“The love for our wild outdoor places transcends the blue and red positioning that characterizes our current reality,” he wrote. “Every victory in the interests of common sense, common ground and the common good will be appreciated by millions of Americans — Republican and Democrat — who love life outdoors.”

How you can help save the LWCF

  • Contact your Senator or Representative and tell them that you support the reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Urge them to press their leaders to bring the issue up for a vote.
  • Write and submit a letter to the editor to your local newspaper voicing your support for the LWCF and urging Congress to act.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and 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.