The wild and scenic spaces that surround us here in Tennessee are more than just lands and water; they are an important part of our heritage and our identity. They reflect our history, our character and our way of life. That is why The Nature Conservancy was thrilled when our elected officials in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives almost unanimously voted to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) that was signed into law on March 12, 2019.
The LWCF is a truly remarkable vehicle for safeguarding our nation’s most treasured natural areas, open spaces, and cultural and historic sites. Rather than using tax dollars, the LWCF is funded by royalties that oil companies pay to the government for offshore drilling. Matching grants from states and local governments further leverage this financial support to benefit projects around the country.
Since 1964, the LWCF has provided Tennessee with a total of $208.5 million to help conserve our state’s tremendous natural, historic and cultural resources—places like the world famous Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other natural and cultural treasures that include the Cherokee National Forest, the Obed River, Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge and the Shiloh National Military Park. LWCF has also been used for building hiking and biking trails in state and local parks, as well as for maintaining playgrounds and ballfields. Lastly, the LWCF is responsible for funding our nation’s Forest Legacy program which protects working forests from being converted to a non-forest land use.
Over and over again, the LWCF has proven to be a successful federal investment in ensuring that Tennesseans have easy access to public, open spaces. It also boosts Tennessee’s economy, creates jobs and increases tourism. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, recreation employs approximately 188,000 Tennesseans and generates $21.6 billion in consumer spending and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue. Permanently reauthorizing LWCF ensures that this important tool can continue to safeguard natural areas and open spaces—and local economies and livelihoods—for decades to come.
This historic moment is critically important to you and me because, every year, America loses an area the size of Delaware to uses that are not aligned with preserving the cultural and natural history upon which this country is built. And once these places disappear—our farms and ranches, parks and forests, battlefields and wildlife refuges—they’re gone forever.
We at The Nature Conservancy do not believe we need to choose between conserving our nation’s natural and cultural heritage and other uses of our lands and waters. We can do both. We commend our U.S. Senators Alexander and Blackburn and U.S. Representatives Burchett, Roe, Fleischmann, DesJarlais, Kustoff, Cooper and Cohen for recognizing, and supporting, a balanced approach to protecting these places for future generations—from sea to shining sea—in ways that the LWCF has proven can be done, again and again.