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Virginia Conservationists: If LWCF Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

Conservationists say they are frustrated that Congress has failed to reauthorize a conservation fund with long-standing bipartisan support. Credit: Live Monumental Campaign
Conservationists say they are frustrated that Congress has failed to reauthorize a conservation fund with long-standing bipartisan support. Credit: Live Monumental Campaign
November 23, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. - Congress' failure to reauthorize a popular land and water fund is drawing bipartisan scorn from Virginia conservationists. Since 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has taken money from offshore oil and gas royalties.

It gives grants to protect and improve everything from Civil War battlefields and federal wilderness areas to state parks and city pools. Anthony Duncan, mid-Atlantic region director for with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, is frustrated that Congress has broken with its longtime, bipartisan support for the fund.

"It's done magnificent things for communities across the state," says Duncan. "For fishermen, hunters, to mountain bikers to hikers to just your average family that visits the state park."

Part of the delay is a push by some in Congress to shift much of the money to other uses they say need it more. Some conservation groups say that could gut the program.

Utah Republican Rob Bishop chairs a house subcommittee crucial to the LWCF. Bishop said he opposes the federal government buying up more land for parks and forests. He's backing a bill he describes as expanding the LWCF's scope. It could shift land-buying money to local governments and training for oil and gas workers.

Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations for lands with The Wilderness Society, says they favor a bipartisan alternative that would permanently fund the LWCF to do what's long been popular in both parties. He says don't fix it if it ain't broke.

"In an incredibly polarized world where Congress isn't doing much, you see this bipartisan cooperation," says Rowsome. "And it shows you that this is a special issue, and one that shouldn't be caught up in the politics."

According to Duncan, the fund is a big part of the reason consumers are spending nearly $650 billion on outdoor recreation nationally each year.

"It's huge business, and it gets bigger ever year," says Duncan. "They're staying in hotels, camping in state parks, spending money in the local grocery stores, spending money at the local restaurants. Not everybody's going to go to Disneyland or Disney World."

The last authorization for the fund expired at the end of September.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA