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Conservationists Push to Fund Illinois' Protected Lands

As Congress debates the Land and Water Conservation Fund, sections of Illinois' Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge are at risk of losing federal funding. Credit: Timothy S. Long/The Nature Conservancy
As Congress debates the Land and Water Conservation Fund, sections of Illinois' Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge are at risk of losing federal funding. Credit: Timothy S. Long/The Nature Conservancy
November 25, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Some of Illinois' best public spots for hunting, fishing and hiking could be at risk of losing about $54 million in federal support because Congress can't agree on the future of a program that funds public conservation and recreation projects.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been around for 50 years, but lawmakers let it expire at the end of September. Last week, they continued the debate, but Gelasia Croom, spokeswoman for the Nature Conservancy, said the program does important work, so there shouldn't be much to argue about.

"By removing these funds, you're affecting the economy, the ecology and, overall, the quality of our basic natural services, including drinking water and things like that," she said. "You know, we have to be careful."

At issue is a proposal from U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, which sets limits and restricts LWCF funding. However, two Senate bills call for reauthorization and full funding of the program. The LWCF gets its revenue from offshore oil and gas royalties.

Alan Rowsome, senior director of public relations for The Wilderness Society, said a compromise is needed. Unlike the Senate plans, he said, Bishop's proposal has no bipartisan support.

"It's out of step and out of touch with what most Americans want," he said, "and his proposal ... would forever alter a program that isn't broken and doesn't need fixing."

Bishop's plan has come under fire for proposing changes that run counter to the goals of the LWCF, such as redirecting about 20 percent of its funding back to the oil and gas developers. Bishop said the money will pay for education and job training programs in that industry.

Meanwhile, Croom said that by funding public land projects such as the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge in central Illinois, the government also helps local farming businesses. She said the Nature Conservancy has been working to restore floodplains in that area.

"By having a wetland area there, and working in concert with federal agencies," she said, "we are able to address conservation issues as well as flooding and mitigating negative impacts from not taking care of that land."

Several members of Illinois' congressional delegation have signed letters in support of the LWCF, including Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican.

Bishop's plan is online at naturalresources.house.gov. The reauthorization bills are House Resolution 1814, Senate Bill 338 and Senate Bill 890.

Brandon Campbell/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - IL