Call to action: Tell congress to vote on full and permanent funding for LWCF

Hikers in the Trinity Divide, a recent LWCF project that protected 17 miles of the PCT.

The push is on to pass bills in Congress that will provide full and permanent funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In the House, supporters of H.R. 3195 are intently pressing their leadership to hold a vote on the bill. It has passed out of committee and has enough cosponsors right now to win approval. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee will take up debate on a companion measure, S. 1081, next week. Bipartisan Senate support is also strong, though one opponent can hold up passage with a filibuster.

Both bills call for annual expenditures of $900 million from the LWCF. Congress included that amount in the original law that started the program in 1965. The LWCF is a reliable and sustainable method of preserving public land for future generations.

But historically, Congress has done a poor job of living up to that original intent. Only once in its 54-year history has the LWCF been fully funded. Most years, the money is diverted to other programs. Over those 5½ decades, $22 billion that should have gone toward land protection across the country was spent elsewhere. Meanwhile, development and resource extraction pressures on public land and surrounding private property continues.

The LWCF is used to purchase land for public ownership for parks, national forests, city open spaces, playgrounds and ball fields, to name a few. And it’s the best tool available to buy the property needed to complete our National Trails System — 11 national scenic and 19 national historic trails. In many cases, decades after Congressional designation, these trail corridors run across miles and miles of private land.

About 10% of the PCT still crosses private property with the footpath protected only by a simple easement. These properties could one day be covered with buildings or power lines. Purchasing them (we only work with willing sellers) will preserve the trail experience Congress intended. Over the past 18 years, the LWCF has provided nearly $46 million to acquire and permanently protect just over 33,000 acres along the PCT.

It’s important to understand that the money from the LWCF does not come from taxpayers, but from lease payments on offshore oil and gas development. Protecting public land is a great way to mitigate the damage caused by our nation’s energy extraction. And the money is spent in every state to preserve land for national forests and wilderness areas, national parks, ball fields and playgrounds and urban greenways.

Please contact your elected representative and senators and urge them to fully fund the LWCF. Let’s get these bills across the finish line.

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.