Commentary: Congress scores win for our nation’s public lands

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been permanently renewed. Now Congress must fund it.

By Lorna Corrigan, Martinique Grigg, and Arul Menezes

For The Herald

A ray of hope for the future of the outdoors came from an unlikely place in March: Washington, D.C.

With the support of every single member of Washington state’s congressional delegation — Republicans and Democrats — the president signed the biggest conservation legislation America has seen in a decade: the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act (S. 47).

The passage of the “Public Lands Package,” as it was known as a bill, is worth celebrating! The omnibus package included several big wins for Washington state and was headlined by the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Created by Congress in 1964 with only a single “no” vote between the two chambers, the fund protects and provides public access to spectacular landscapes, neighborhood parks and ballfields, river access points, campgrounds and historic sites.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, served as an outspoken advocate for permanent reauthorization and full funding. Dedicated to a finding a bipartisan solution, Sen. Cantwell spent years working in partnership with Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Their hard work paid off this winter, with the lands package passing the House, 363-62, and the Senate, 92-8. These rarely seen bipartisan margins illustrate the unifying power of our natural world.

Now that the LWCF’s future is ensured, it’s time for Congress to fully fund it. The program doesn’t cost taxpayers a cent; rather the fund is filled by fees the oil and gas companies pay to drill offshore in our national waters. No doubt this is a factor in its near-universal appeal. And the LWCF has made it possible for hundreds of millions of Americans to enjoy our public lands, in turn supporting thousands of businesses that power our thriving, $887 billion outdoor recreation economy. Simply put, the LWCF is vital for supporting outdoor recreation, conserving outdoor spaces and helping ensure equal access to the outdoors for all Americans.

It’s good for families, for businesses, for urban and rural folks. It’s good for hunters as well as backpackers, rock climbers and entrepreneurs, and it’s good for anyone seeking solace, adventure or simply a safe place to play outside. Our members of Congress deserve your thanks for their support of this landmark public lands legislation.

Our organizations, along with hundreds of other recreation and conservation groups across the country, are proud — and relieved — that the LWCF will now be part of America’s conservation toolbox for good. But there’s still another hurdle to clear: LWCF needs funding to power its work. With such strong support, and the momentum of a big bipartisan win, Congress must take the next step and provide full, dedicated funding for LWCF.

We look with renewed hope to a future where all Americans will enjoy the peacefulness, delight and rejuvenating power of public lands for generations to come.

Lorna Corrigan is board president for The Mountaineers. Martinique Grigg is the governing council member for the Wilderness Society. Arul Menezes is a trustee for The Nature Conservancy in Washington.

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