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Another 50 Years for Land and Water Conservation Fund?

Projects to improve water quality and fish habitat in Oregon's Umpqua, Siuslaw and Rogue-Siskiyou National Forests were just a few in line for Land and Water Conservation Fund grants for 2015. Credit: U.S. Forest Service.
Projects to improve water quality and fish habitat in Oregon's Umpqua, Siuslaw and Rogue-Siskiyou National Forests were just a few in line for Land and Water Conservation Fund grants for 2015. Credit: U.S. Forest Service.
July 27, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. - Sportsmen's and conservation groups are praising a rare bit of bipartisan cooperation in Congress to keep the Land and Water Conservation Fund from expiring.

But the deadline to save it is tight, with just two months before the fund is scheduled to end. The money is used to preserve and improve access to everything from national wilderness areas to city and county parks and trails.

For many of the projects, the local communities raise half the money and the fund matches it. Amy Lindholm, LWCF campaign director for The Wilderness Society, says there's always a long list of projects that await funding.

"LWCF has been incredibly successful over the past 50 years, even when it's underfunded, it's been doing amazing work and has touched every single state, almost every county in America," says Lindholm. "Those projects are vital things to their communities, and we want to see them continue even if it's not fully funded."

Two senators - Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and Washington state Democrat Maria Cantwell - reached the agreement that could keep the funding in place. They're both on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where the proposal is part of a larger, energy bill being marked up this week.

The question is whether that bill will move fast enough before the fund expires Sept. 30.

The money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund comes from offshore oil and gas drilling royalties, although Lindholm notes Congress often diverts much of it for other uses.

"This agreement does not address that problem; $20 billion that has come into the fund over the life of the program has not been spent on conservation, and has been siphoned off to other purposes," she says. "But the clock has been ticking down and our primary focus has to be on continuing the program."

Despite rarely receiving its full funding amount of $900 million a year, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has managed to bring more than $300 million to Oregon for public conservation and recreation projects since the 1960s.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR