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Conservationists Hail Rare Bipartisan Agreement in Congress

Unusual bipartisan cooperation might save a 50-year-old program that supports public lands. Photo from the Monongahela National Forest by Beth Little.
Unusual bipartisan cooperation might save a 50-year-old program that supports public lands. Photo from the Monongahela National Forest by Beth Little.
July 24, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Conservationists are praising a rare bit of bipartisan cooperation in Congress to fund a program for public areas and historic and wilderness lands.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund takes a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas development and spends that on many different kinds of public lands. The 50-year-old program is set to expire in days, but Amy Lindholm, director of The Wilderness Society, said Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., have reached an agreement that could keep the funding in place.

"LWCF has been incredibly successful over the past 50 years," Lindholm said. "Those projects are vital things to their communities, and we want to see them continue. So, we're really thrilled with the agreement."

Conservation programs traditionally have enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, although that has often lapsed into acrimony of late. Observers say they hope this can mark a return to cooperation.

Funds from the LWCF go to preserve and guarantee access to everything from national wilderness areas and historic landmarks to county recreation spots. Don Owen, now a consultant with the Land Trust Alliance after spending decades working on the Appalachian Trail, said a hunter or boater in West Virginia might not realize it but the program has supported all sorts of well-loved places in the area.

"We're talking about the Appalachian Trail. We're talking about the George Washington National Forest. We're talking about the Bluestone or the New River or the Gauley," he said. "But we're also talking about county parks. We're also talking about state lands like the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area."

The agreement is part of an energy bill now in the Senate. If that bill gets bogged down, The Wilderness Society hopes the measure can be attached to something moving fast enough to keep the program's funding from expiring.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV