Editor, Last February, Congress passed one of the biggest public lands bills in recent history. Among its many provisions—expanding several national parks, making new wilderness designations, and creating new national monuments—this bill permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular program that has helped establish parks and outdoor recreation opportunities across the country, everything from local ballparks to wildlife refuges.
Though this was a huge win for conservation, Congress’ work is not yet done. In order for the LWCF to work, it still needs permanent, dedicated funding.
Over the 55 years the LWCF has been in existence, $22 billion that should have gone toward projects connecting us with the outdoors has been diverted to fund other government operations and programs.
Funding for the LWCF is not generated by taxpayers, but through revenue from oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. When the program was established, it was promised to the American people that harm done to our environment by the oil and gas industry would be offset through investments in conservation.
This year, Virginia’s congressional delegation must do its part in living up to that promise by supporting legislation to secure annual, dedicated funding of $900 million.
To-date, more than $360 million of funding has come to Virginia through the LWCF, important projects that connect Virginians with the outdoors and contribute to a vibrant, tourism-driven economy.
In Virginia, the Outdoor Industry Association estimates that every year outdoor recreation is responsible for nearly 200,000 jobs, and produces $1.2 billion in local and state tax revenue, and generates $21.9 billion in consumer spending.
Expanding outdoor opportunities is a win-win for our environment, our economy, and Virginia’s way of life.
Congress must prioritize full funding for the LWCF as it prepares a final budget in 2019. Representative Jennifer Wexton is to be applauded for signing on to legislation securing permanent, dedicated funding. All members of the Virginia Delegation must do likewise. Virginia’s unspoiled, wild lands must be protected from the threat of development and be preserved in perpetuity.
Natalie Pien, Leesburg