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Congress Poised to Protect Land and Water Conservation Fund

Treasured places in Wisconsin, such as the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, benefit from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (National Park Service)
Treasured places in Wisconsin, such as the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, benefit from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (National Park Service)
February 22, 2019

MADISON, Wis. - Congress is poised to pass landmark legislation that could ensure the future protection of some of Wisconsin's most precious outdoor areas.

From the Chippewa Flowage Forest Legacy Project - Wisconsin's third-largest inland body of water, known for its world-class fishery - to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, covering 1,200 miles across the state, many places in Wisconsin have received support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The program expired in September, but the Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a permanent reauthorization as part of the Natural Resources Management Act.

Tracy Stone-Manning, the National Wildlife FederationNational Wildlife Federation's vice president for public lands, called it a rare show of bipartisanship.

"In a time when our country is so divided, this one issue - the ability to bring people together around public lands, around protection of our wildlife - has punched through as something that is so uniquely and beautifully American that it has brought the Senate together," she said, "and we're hoping it does the House as well."

Wisconsin has received more than $218 million in LWCF grants over the past 50 years. The money comes from offshore oil and gas royalties. The House could vote on the bill as early as next week.

Wisconsin has an outdoor-recreation economy worth almost $18 billion a year. Garett Reppenhagen, a regional director for the Vet Voice Foundation, said it is no doubt boosted by public lands.

"People go into the great outdoors needing to stop for gas or using hotels, or buying fishing equipment or bicycle equipment," he said. "You know, there's a really growing outdoor economy in America, and it's a sustainable economy."

Polling has shown that three in four Americans support permanent reauthorization for the program, which Stone-Manning said she believes is needed to ensure that treasured places are protected for future generations.

"Our population is growing; need for open space and need for parks is growing with it," she said. "So we desperately need this program to continue, so that our kids and our grandkids have the exact same access to parks and wildlife habitat that we have."

A 2018 statewide poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and FM3 Research showed 86 percent of Wisconsin voters support reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - WI