OPED: Urge Congress to reauthorize conservation fund

Ed Perry
National Wildlife Federation
In this file photo, third-graders and team Positive Power Porcupines Clare Seifert, front, and Milan Gerald, both of Hayshire Elementary School, compete in the Scavenger Hunt during the 2017 Envirothon at John C. Rudy County Park in East Manchester Township, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The park is one of 16 in York County that have benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1940s and '50s, overlooking the steel mills, about one quarter mile from where the Cuyahoga River caught on fire.

There were no public parks nearby, no play grounds, no neighborhood swimming pools. My ball field was an abandoned old field next to a busy highway.  

In short, my outdoor recreational opportunities were quite limited.

But the landscape for public outdoor recreation changed dramatically in 1964, when, with bipartisan support, Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).  

The LWCF was established to “… preserve, create and ensure access to outdoor recreation facilities so as to strengthen the health of Americans.”  And it has fulfilled its mission admirably.  

For the past 54 years, the fund has used a small portion of the federal offshore energy revenues to buy and preserve public lands, purchase angler and boater access, swimming pools, ball fields, local parks, national parks and historic sites. There are no tax dollars in the fund.

After moving from Cleveland, my wife and two boys and I made up for lost time by fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking and enjoying nature all over our great country.  Our trips to iconic places like the Grand Canyon, Everglades National Park, Acadia National Park and Grand Teton National Park were some of our family’s best outdoor experiences.  

Ed Perry, outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation

And we never knew those special places were created or heavily supported by the LWCF.

The LWCF was established to compensate for the damage that oil and gas drilling would do to the Gulf, which, as we have seen, has been enormous. 

Since there are no taxpayer dollars in the LWCF, it is puzzling why Congress refuses to spend these funds for the purposes the fund was created when there are so many communities that would benefit from a LWCF-funded project.

Each year, more than $900 million dollars has gone into the fund. Unfortunately, Congress has appropriated full funding to support conservation and recreation projects only once in the fund’s 54-year history — diverting the remainder of the money elsewhere.  

As a result, more than $20 billion of the $48 billion that should have been used to build city and state parks, hiking and biking trails, or acquiring conservation easements to protect fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities for all Americans, has gone into the black hole of the federal treasury.  

And Congress has allowed this to happen.

The LWCF has indeed benefited communities in every state, with more than 41,000 projects being funded. 

And Pennsylvania has been especially blessed. The list includes the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, the Flight 93 Memorial, Fort Hunter and Wildwood Park in Harrisburg as well as 26 other funded parks in the area, Allegheny Landing Park in Pittsburgh, boat ramps in Erie, 16 parks in York County and over 40 parks, pools and playgrounds in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre area.

In sum, virtually every part of the state has benefited from LWCF funding.

Outdoor recreation is big business, and the projects funded by the LWCF help drive the nation’s $887 billion recreation outdoor industry.  Moreover, many of the 7.6 million jobs the Outdoor Recreation Association says are directly attributable to outdoor recreation are in rural communities and gateway areas to national parks, monuments and forests.

Without congressional action, this wonderful program that has benefited so many communities around the country is set to expire on Sept. 30. Therefore, it’s urgent we contact our federal representatives and demand they permanently reauthorize the LWCF with full funding so that we can create and protect those special places that are so important to all of us.

— Ed Perry is a member of the National Wildlife Federation's Climate Change Campaign.