In a week where major news stories swirled from various corners of the globe, a significant conservation story took a positive turn in Washington, D.C.
In a bipartisan effort that has the support of President Donald J. Trump, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced the proposal of new legislation on March 3, 2020, that will bring fully dedicated funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
The LWCF was created more than 50 years ago to protect and create recreational opportunities in America with dollar-for-dollar funding to states for parks, trails and other facilities. "LWCF funding has benefited nearly every county in America, supporting over 41,000 projects,” according to this Duck Unlimited report.
But in recent years, the effort that began in 1965 has come under increasing pressure as lawmakers have sought to divert those funds to other programs. This week’s legislation proposal seeks to permanently end the LWCF fund-raiding and fully fund a key program in America’s conservation effort.
President Trump released on March 3 the following statement on his Twitter account:
"@realDonaldTrump – I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks. When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands. All thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT conservative leaders."
Gardner gave his own Twitter response on March 4 concerning the proposed legislation:
"@SenCoryGardner - Colorado is the heart of our nation’s public lands, but public lands are in the heart of every American. I’m proud to have secured @realDonaldTrump’s support to permanently and fully #FundLWCF. #LWCF"
Gardner tweeted that the LWCF has only received full funding twice in its 55-year history.
How will that full funding take place? According to a news release from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, the legislation rests on the combining of two previous bills, S. 1081 and S. 500.
In S. 1081, "The Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act authorizes $900 million annually to be deposited into the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). To the extent amounts appropriated from the fund each year do not reach $900 million, additional funds are credited into the LWCF from federal offshore oil and gas receipts, but amounts from the fund can only be spent if appropriated."
In S. 500, Congress "…establishes the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund, and (2) requires 50% of all energy development revenues for FY2019-FY2023 to be deposited into such fund.Amounts deposited in the fund must not exceed $1.3 billion for any fiscal year and must be used for meeting the priority deferred maintenance needs of the National Park Service."
Reaction from conservation leaders was enthusiastic, to say the least.
"This is a historic deal reflecting the tremendous bipartisan support for our public lands," said Tom Cors, Director of Government Relations for Lands for The Nature Conservancy, in a LWCFC news release. “It is the once-in-a-generation chance we have been waiting for to solidify our investments in the outdoor economy and put an end to the constant raiding of LWCF.
“We applaud our congressional champions and the Administration for demonstrating that bipartisan cooperation can achieve great things, and for finding common ground in the fight to ensure that future generations will continue to have access to close-to-home recreation."
The finding of such common ground comes less than a month after the Trump Administration was heavily criticized for proposing to eliminate nearly all funding for the LWCF in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
“This proposal is outrageous and absurd, especially as Democrats and Republicans alike on Capitol Hill are working hard to fund LWCF fully and permanently, and as conservation and recreation demand across America continues to skyrocket,” stated Jonathan Asher, Director of Government Relations for The Wilderness Society, in a Feb. 10th news release critical of the President’s 2021 budget proposal.
"Eliminating funding for LWCF would have a devastating impact on not only our national forests, parks, and other national treasures, but would also harm the economy and communities across the nation. Hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation activities support 7.6 million jobs and contribute $887 billion annually to the U.S. economy."
The February displeasure of Asher and others was apparently noted in various corners of Washington. Considering this week’s legislation proposal and the subsequent responses from lawmakers and President Trump, it would now appear the effort of finding such common ground was successful.
In an interview with Gray Digital Media reporter Jillian Angeline, a link to which Gardner provided in one of his tweets, the Colorado senator was enthusiastic about the legislation that seeks to provide $1.3 billion over five years for national park maintenance, and $900 million annually for LWCF funds.
Such monies are vital for resolving the $12 billion maintenance backlog that Gardner said exists at the country’s national parks, as well as helping to improve access to lands critical to hunting, fishing, and outdoors recreation.
"This is a crown jewel of conservation, one of the biggest moments in conservation history," Gardner said to Angeline in the report.
Outside of the Capitol building, the response to the legislation announcement has been very enthusiastic.
"Sportsmen and women are thrilled to see bipartisan momentum building behind the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in a news release.
"It has a proven track record of supporting hunting, fishing, and our booming outdoor economy," he added. "We urge the full Senate to invest in the future of LWCF and the conservation of our natural resources."