As summer wanes, some of the best of our outdoor recreation opportunities are just around the corner. The cooler days and nights make for more comfortable hikes, migratory birds are beginning their journey south, and other wildlife is preparing for winter, making for better viewing opportunities. And fall’s glorious colors remind us once again of the wonders of nature.
This summer proved that Americans are starting to get out and travel again – but that they are choosing experiences nearer to home where they can enjoy the great outdoors. Record or nearly record-breaking visitation at Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and many other beautiful natural places is evidence of our quest to remember the beauty of our own country.
Many of these outdoor experiences are courtesy of a federal fund that has done its job even when Congress has chosen not to fund it at its intended level. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was designed to dedicate a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas development for land conservation and outdoor recreation throughout the country – a promise that has been chronically unfulfilled.
Signed into law in 1964, the LWCF was intended to balance the risks of offshore oil and gas production by protecting some of America’s most precious resources. In addition, the fund was to provide recreational facilities and close-to-home opportunities for Americans in every state in the nation.
LWCF was supposed to receive $900 million per year – a drop in the bucket of offshore revenues that typically tally over $5 billion – but has been shortchanged nearly every year, with revenues regularly being diverted to other purposes. Full funding has been appropriated only once in the LWCF’s 46-year history and recently declined to a low of $138 million in 2007. This shortfall has resulted in a huge land protection and outdoor recreation backlog of unmet funding needs across our federal public lands, and state and local parks.
And yet in spite of rarely receiving its due, LWCF has been instrumental in many of the places that are most dear to us as a nation. From local parks and playgrounds, where kids can get outside to play, to greenbelts and recreational trails that connect and enhance local communities, to state parks that provide hiking, biking, and camping and help to sustain wildlife, to federal public lands used for hunting, fishing, paddling, and our most pristine national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas – LWCF has provided a continuum of conservation that has touched us all.
Closer to home, LWCF has contributed to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, in Philadelphia, and the Pinelands National Reserve and Cape May National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, as well as important cultural sites like Valley Forge National Historical Park. In the coming years, LWCF could also provide critical support for the new Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Given the tragic situation in the Gulf of Mexico, the vision behind the Land and Water Conservation Fund is even more relevant than ever and now is the time for action. A recent national bipartisan poll indicated that 85 percent of respondents viewed the LWCF as more important today in light of the oil spill.
In July, the U.S. House of Representatives took on this challenge by passing the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act of 2009, H.R. 3534 including full, dedicated funding for LWCF with the support of Representatives from the Delaware valley, including Robert Brady, Chaka Fattah, Joe Sestak, Patrick Murphy and Allyson Schwartz in Pennsylvania and John Adler, Robert Andrews, and Rush Holt in New Jersey. The U.S. Senate will soon consider energy legislation that includes a provision to fulfill the promise.
This is the time and this is the opportunity. Senators Robert Casey and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, have long been supporters of LWCF. Senators Menendez and Lautenberg signed on to cosponsor legislation to fully fund LWCF earlier this summer. But all of the Delaware Valley’s Senators must now work with leadership to ensure that an oil spill and energy reform bill that includes dedicated LWCF funding is finalized when they return to Washington so that it can be enacted before the end of this Congress.
Preserving the land, water and history of the Delaware Valley is critical to our quality of life and to the economic vitality of our region. The Land and Water Conservation Fund must be fully funded to protect our region’s special places.
Barbara Brummer, Executive Director, New Jersey Chapter, The Nature Conservancy
Bill Kunze, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Chapter, The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.