Wash. Senator Heads Effort to Renew Conservation Program
SEATTLE – The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) expired last Sunday and loses about $2.4 dollars each day it isn't reauthorized.
A bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington moved closer to reinstating the program this week.
The bill, which would permanently reauthorize the fund, passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee 16-to-7.
Cantwell says since it was enacted more than 50 years ago, the program has helped protect public lands across the country, and also boosted local economies.
"It has pumped billions of dollars into the outdoor economy and provided for millions of good jobs,” she points out. “So protecting our public lands is good for the environment, it's good for the economy and it's good for the health and welfare of our people."
The conservation program preserves access to public lands and is also used to build playgrounds, trails, swimming pools, soccer fields and other facilities.
It's enjoyed bipartisan support in the past, but members of the House and Senate have disagreed on whether the program should be permanently reauthorized.
It's funded through royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas offshore.
Rachel Voss, Washington state chair of the Mule Deer Foundation, says the fund helps to secure habitat so that people can hunt and fish.
She says it's key protecting a place she holds dear – the headwaters of the Yakima River in the Wenatchee National Forest.
Voss doesn't think political affiliation should be an issue here.
"There's a lot of young people like myself who've grown up in a time when we're seeing a lot of political disagreements, but advocating for the conservation of the lands that we all share shouldn't be a partisan issue,” she states. “We all know that access to the outdoors is something that Republicans, Democrats, we can all agree on that."
Joe Rotter, a partner at Red's Fly Shop in Ellensburg, says without the LWCF, access to the Yakima River could be limited and projects such as picnic areas, boat launches or trailheads probably won't get off the ground in his area.
"A lot of the funds that we work on on small-scale projects within in our own county ultimately call upon funding that trickles down from the Land and Water Conservation Fund," he states.
Washington state has received more than $600 million from the program since its inception in 1965.