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Congressional Showdown Threatens Conservation Fund

Conservation Fund grants benefit NY forests, beaches and the NYC watershed. Courtesy: The Nature Conservancy
Conservation Fund grants benefit NY forests, beaches and the NYC watershed. Courtesy: The Nature Conservancy
September 28, 2015

NEW YORK – A federal conservation program that doesn't cost taxpayers a dime may expire on Wednesday if Congress doesn't act to reauthorize it.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been around for 50 years. And according to Jessica Ottney Mahar, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy of New York, the program has helped communities by funding projects across the country and here in New York.

"Neighborhood parks and playgrounds, to the protection of historic sites, to cooperative working forests, places where people can hunt and fish and hike and recreate with their families," she points out.

Since 1965, using only money from federal offshore oil and gas revenues, the fund has provided almost $320 million in New York state alone, funding more than 1,300 projects from Long Island to Buffalo.

Nationally, the total is more than $16 billion. But Ottney Mahar says the whole revenue-neutral arrangement is now in jeopardy.

"It's a grand bargain that was struck between the concept of resource extraction and resource protection, and that link is at risk by a failure to reauthorize," she explains.

Ottney Mahar says she doesn't see the fund as controversial, noting that it has broad bipartisan support.

If the fund does expire on Wednesday, Congress may vote to reauthorize it at a later date. To Ottney Mahar, that's just too much of a gamble.

"Once we've lost that authorization, we don't know if we'll get it back,” she states. “And after 50 years of producing success it's just amazing that we would let that go."

The Nature Conservancy says with extreme weather events and rising sea levels due to global climate change, resources from the Land and Water Conservation Fund could be more important than ever.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY