Will the President Keep His Conservation Promise With His Budget? | Commentary

In the coming days, President Barack Obama will propose his budget. As recent weeks and months have shown, the United States faces enormous budgetary challenges, and the president might be tempted to scale back important plans — but now is no time to compromise on matters that will impact our nation for decades to come.

Last year the president promised that, by 2014, the White House budget proposal would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For American sportsmen and women, the conservation of wildlife, habitat and access to public lands are our highest priorities. The LWCF is one tool that helps make these priorities possible. We will be watching to make sure Obama is good to his word.

Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1965 to protect recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat in all 50 states. Over the course of its history, the fund has created an enduring legacy and is responsible for increased access to hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges, working forestlands, and other public lands, as well as preserving cherished national parks like the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains. It is funded with revenues from offshore oil and gas development, but almost every year, Congress raids the fund for nonconservation-related uses.

Hunters and anglers have always given voice to all Americans who pursue outdoor passions, but our unique and very personal role in funding conservation puts us at the forefront of efforts to guard America’s outdoor legacy. We have opted time and again to impose the costs of conservation on ourselves, through license fees and excise taxes on our equipment. All told, these resources came to almost $1.4 billion in revenue for wildlife in 2013 alone. Moreover, the direct expenditures of sportsmen and women inject $90 billion into the American economy every year.

With pressure on federal budgets, it’s vital that the administration be clear about our shared national duty to protect our hunting and fishing traditions. This cannot mean being satisfied with what past leaders have left us to enjoy but pushing forward and continuing to ensure access to public lands threatened to be closed off by development. The United States annually loses some 1.6 million acres of forest, farm and working ranches to development. According to the Colorado College 2014 Conservation in the West poll, 67 percent of voters agree that the loss of habitat for fish and wildlife in their state is a serious concern. Balancing the tide of development with conservation practices is fundamental to the future of hunting and fishing in this country.

A vital piece of any effort to protect our national heritage will be engaging the next generation of sportsmen and women. The face of our community must be an accurate reflection of the American people as a whole,regardless of age, background or gender. For the first time in years, our numbers are growing and that growth absolutely depends on access to wild places where fish and wildlife flourish. All Americans are vested in the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but without exposure to our public lands, some will never know what’s at stake. As more people venture into the woods or onto the prairie and see what hunting and fishing have to offer, support for conservation and the LWCF will continue to grow.

The goals of the Land and Water Conservation Fund could be achieved if energy leasing fees are used, as the law intends, to fund its activities. If the president keeps his promise to propose full funding, and the Congress does its job to fully fund and not divert this money — as the law intends — we’ll be able to guarantee all Americans access to our shared inheritance

Further, if Congress passes the Making Public Lands Public Act, a portion of LWCF funds will be set aside and used to provide access to landlocked federal public lands. Unlocking this access will provide a valuable tool for increasing opportunities for quality hunting and angling experiences. We must plan very carefully today to ensure that critical habitat and the wildlife living in it will be here tomorrow; we must do all we can to preserve special hunting grounds, secret fishing holes, the beauty of a way of life that my parents passed down to me — and which I hope to pass down as well.

Though our public lands and wildlife are spread across 50 states, actions taken in Washington can have a huge impact on preserving habitat. If we do not fully fund and reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, we stand to lose one of our defining characteristics as a nation.

We’ll be watching, Mr. President; we hope you’ll keep your promise to help us protect our outdoor way of life. And then we’ll set our sights on Congress.

Jared Mott is policy director of the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance.