The nation’s most effective tool in protecting critical water sources and preserving America’s natural, recreational and cultural treasures could soon come to an end. The 52-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) will expire in September, unless Congress takes action.
“Backed by a dedicated funding stream generated by offshore oil and gas drilling leases, the LWCF has proven to be the country’s most important and reliable source of conservation funding.
“At its core, the LWCF is about smart, effective, high-impact, permanent land conservation — a pursuit that is critically important to clean water, recreation, wildlife protection and preserving the cultural identities of communities throughout our nation,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute. “We urge Congress to take save the LWCF so that our children and grandchildren will have access to fresh water, clean air and protect the landscapes and resources that define and unite our nation.”
Concern over the future of LWCF follows a successful year for the program. The most recent federal budget includes $425 million for the LWCF, a $25 million increase from previous-year levels.
Included in this appropriation is funding to permanently protect a 4,672-acre property in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, a conservation project being spearheaded by OSI.
Located at the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay, the conservation of the “Grace Furnace” property will preserve a local recreational asset and protect the water quality of the James River as it flows to the Chesapeake.
“This significant conservation project in Virginia is exemplary of the kind critical conservation work the LWCF makes possible,” said Elliman. “It offers large-scale watershed and habitat protection, as well as premier recreational value, including critical access for fishing. We thank the congressional leaders who fought for the increased funding for the LWCF and urge them to work with their colleagues to now extend the program.”
With the funds provided through the federal budget agreement earlier this year, the Grace Furnace property is expected to be transferred to the USDA Forest Service as an addition to the Jefferson National Forest.
The breadth of LWCF’s scope is one of the program’s great successes. Over the decades, this one fund has made significant impacts on landscapes across the nation – and in fact, in every congressional district – creating national, state and local parks; protecting wilderness areas; supporting conservation-based timber practices; promoting a range of recreational activities, including fishing, camping, hiking, and biking.
“There is so much riding on a fully-funded LWCF,” said Elliman. “From the water we drink, and the outdoor traditions handed down from one generation to the next; to the places, we bring our families to enjoy our nation’s natural beauty and recreational activities.
“It is critical that Congress reauthorizes the LWCF and saves it for future generations.”