Program Protecting Scenic Idaho Sites Could Expire
BOISE, Idaho — Congress has less than three months to renew an often-overlooked program supporters say is critical to preserving special places in Idaho and across the country.
Over the last 50 years, Gem State recreation parks and public lands have received nearly $280 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LuVerne Grussing, a former recreation planner for the Bureau of Land Management, said the fund has been vital to protecting the scenic waterways of the Lower Salmon River from development.
He said because of that, the Lower Salmon is a big recreation draw.
"With increased development on those lands, there's no doubt that the popularity of going on the Lower Salmon River would decrease,” Grussing said. “It simply wouldn't be as popular as it is now, and that's a big economic activity in the area."
The fund also has helped protect the Boise Foothills, Hell's Canyon, Sawtooth Valley and other natural wonders.
The program is funded from royalties generated by offshore oil and gas drilling. It has traditionally received bipartisan support, including approval from Idaho's senators in 2015 when it was reauthorized.
The fund is set to expire on September 30 if Congress does not renew it.
Doug Eastwood is the former parks director for the city of Coeur d'Alene. He first sought funding from the program in the 1980s and realized what a valuable resource it could be.
At that time, the city had four parks. Today it has 32, which are valued at more than $200 million in total, and Coeur d'Alene has been dubbed a "park wonderland." Eastwood said the parks include natural areas, sports complexes, neighborhood parks and regional parks.
"A lot of that is attributed to the fact that we were able to utilize the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Eastwood said. “Without it, Coeur d'Alene would not be the park system that it is today."
Eastwood said he would like to see the fund not only reauthorized, but fully funded. In most years, Congress raids the fund to spend on other projects.