Congress Needs to Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund Now | Commentary

Posted September 21, 2015 at 2:36pm

A lot happened in America 50 years ago. In 1965, astronaut Ed White became the first American to walk in space, Bob Dylan transformed folk music with the electric guitar and the revolutionary Ford Mustang entered its first full year of production. All of these events have had a lasting impact on American culture and contributed to our standing as an innovative and exceptional nation.

An innovation of similar scope, perhaps with less glamour, was made in conservation: Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund with broad bipartisan support. In fact, the Senate passed its version of the bill on a 92-1 vote — a majority that seems unimaginable today — and the conference agreement passed both bodies by voice vote.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of the nation’s most important tools for providing public access to outdoor recreation, conserving wild and undeveloped places, and benefiting America’s fish and wildlife. The fund is not supported by tax dollars, but instead uses royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. For the past 50 years, the LWCF has been used to invest $16 billion into beneficial projects, ranging from the development of community swimming pools and city and state parks to the acquisition of fishing access and blocks of publicly owned lands across the country.

We are proud of the fact that America’s 37 million hunters and anglers have championed this program for five decades — it has served us well. Those of us who hunt ducks and geese in places such as the Dakotas’ Grassland Conservation Area, the Ottowa National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio or the Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana can do so because of the LWCF. Anglers and big-game hunters who travel to the Misty Fjords of Alaska and turkey hunters who roam the Big River Corridor of Kentucky can be thankful that the LWCF has given them access to pursue their outdoor passions.

But, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you like to do outside, the LWCF has been used to increase the ability of all Americans to enjoy the outdoors. This unfettered access is something that the citizens of most other nations find unimaginable.

Because time outdoors boosts our quality of life and fuels our economy, and because of the success of this funding program, you’d think lawmakers would choose to continue it, without a second thought. Think again: Authorization for this program is set to expire on Sept. 30. Despite continued bipartisan support and broad popularity, the clock is ticking and Congress needs to act now.

Thankfully, Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., have struck a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize and modernize this important program. It is time for the rest of Congress to follow their lead and protect habitat and access that will enable American families to spend time afield for another 50 years.

Howard Vincent is the president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. Whit Fosburgh is the president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.