50 years of a law that works

Inspired legislation — like airline cuisine, a laugh-test flunker — found expression a half century ago. 2014 marks the 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act and the National Wilderness Act. It’s also the anniversary of a little-known funding tool, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has boosted outdoor recreation, preserved cultural resources and conserved wild places for this generation and generations yet unborn.

The LWCF’s M.O. is reinvestment: Devote a portion of offshore oil and gas leases — property of the American people — to conserve water, wild lands and recreation. For 50 years, the LWCF has dedicated more than $16 billion across the 50 states to save and enhance natural areas, national battlefields and monuments, and river corridors.

The windfall is substantial. Washington’s recreation economy is a $8.5 billion industry sustaining 115,000 jobs.

The LWCF’s bipartisan appeal translates into projects across the Northwest, including so-called “working forests,” which can breathe life into the timber economy.

Two LWCF champions, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, return to the Northwest for the August recess. At community shindigs, they’ll be buttonholed on gridlock in Washington and bloodshed in the Middle East. Fully funding the LWCF? It’s a question as obscure as it is intangible. But visit Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve or Deception Pass State Park and behold the tangible part.

This year, LWCF projects include $43,030 to help purchase 22 acres of the 64-acre urban North Creek Forest, Bothell’s last remaining mature forest, which serves as a learning laboratory for 9,000 students. There’s funding for Island County to purchase part of the 670-acre Trillium Community Forest, the largest contiguous forestland in the county. According to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, LWCF proposals under review include a large-activity shelter at Arlington’s Haller Park and renovation of Edmonds’ recreational fishing pier.

Last month, the House Appropriations Committee marked up its fiscal year 2015 budget with $150 million for LWCF. It’s wiser to go with the U.S. Senate’s S. 338, co-sponsored by Murray and Cantwell, which dedicates $340 million (still shy of full funding.)

In the tangle of D.C. politics and international crises, a sensible LWCF risks getting lost. Here’s a greater-good mechanism that, except for not receiving full funding, works as it was conceived in 1964.

Washington’s heritage is knit together by its land, water and people — and so is the Northwest economy. Programs like the LWCF not only inform our bottom line, but also the legacy we impart to future generations.

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