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Sportsmen: Funding Needed to Keep "Great Outdoors" Great

IMAGE: In 2013, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation purchased portions of a 40-mile area of the John Day River headwaters to improve recreation access to thousands more acres, using the Land and Water Conservation Fund. CREDIT: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
IMAGE: In 2013, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation purchased portions of a 40-mile area of the John Day River headwaters to improve recreation access to thousands more acres, using the Land and Water Conservation Fund. CREDIT: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
June 23, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. - Monday marks the start of Great Outdoors America Week, an annual reminder to enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer.

But advocates for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) say that, without the money Oregon has received from the fund, there wouldn't be as many options.

Offshore oil and gas developers pay into the fund, but Congress usually diverts the money for other purposes. In Oregon, LWCF dollars are often used to buy private land and make it public to gain recreation access.

For Randy Newberg, host of the cable TV hunting show "Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg," that made a huge difference. But the fund is set to expire next year.

"I worry that we're too late in the game," said Newberg. "We have to start the process of letting people know how these lands got here, how important this program is to keeping these lands public, to creating better access for hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists."

Recently, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation opened public access to about 13,000 acres of the John Day River headwaters by purchasing the land from a private owner, in part using LWCF money. The fund can also be used for town parks, ball fields and other open spaces.

However, the LWCF has only received full financial support from Congress for one year in the last 50.

Newberg is part of a group called "Sportsmen for Access," concerned about the future of the fund.

He pointed out that, even at no cost to taxpayers, the Congress that will soon decide whether to keep the fund is far different than the one that created it.

"This was an agreement put together by both sides of the aisle," said Newberg. "By an industry that said, 'we will have an impact on the landscape, so how do we mitigate some of that?' And 50 years later, even with all the evidence of what a great program it is, we're in danger of losing it."

Newberg added that each episode of his show's new season, which starts in July on the Sportsmen Channel, will feature an example of public land created or improved with LWCF support.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR