Mount Rainier is seen through the trees at Mount Rainier National Park, Jan. 28. Rainier and the nation’s other national parks and public lands have long relied on a funding program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress is preparing to renew as part of a package of related legislation. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Mount Rainier is seen through the trees at Mount Rainier National Park, Jan. 28. Rainier and the nation’s other national parks and public lands have long relied on a funding program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress is preparing to renew as part of a package of related legislation. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Editorial: Hope for public lands in Senate package of bills

Among the bills is permanent renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund that expired last year.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Now the cleanup — and some atonement for past inaction — can begin.

Days after the end of the 35-day partial government shutdown, during which national parks remained open but were subjected to overflowing restrooms, uncollected garbage and disturbing vandalism, Congress is nearing passage of a package of legislation that will aid in the protection and upkeep of parks and public lands in all 50 states.

Most importantly, the packages includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which lapsed for the second time in three years on Sept. 30, after 50 years of continuous bipartisan support.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, shepherded into law by Everett’s Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson in 1964, has provided millions of dollars each year to fund the purchase and preservation of public land and water projects throughout the nation, development at national parks and matching grants for park and public lands projects at the state and local level, protecting more than 7 million acres and funding $16.8 billion in projects throughout the nation.

And it has done so without a dollar from taxpayers; the program is supported entirely through royalties paid by the oil and gas industry for offshore leases.

In Washington state, the fund has invested more than $637 million since its inception to expand and protect the expansive Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades national parks and smaller preserves and parks closer to home such as Bothell’s North Creek Forest, a 63-acre forestland that provides a green oasis for surrounding residential neighborhoods.

A key provision of the bill authorizing the LWCF is its permanence; although funding will continue to be considered separately in budgets, the fund will no longer have to come up for periodic renewal, a provision that has been sought by many in Washington state’s congressional delegation, including by Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and the region’s 1st and 2nd District Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen.

All had urged reauthorization before the program lapsed at the end of September, including Cantwell, who served last year as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and secured committee support for her own LWCF legislation, much of which was wrapped into the bill now being considered.

Murray, in a statement Thursday, called the LWCF, “one of our country’s greatest tools to create green spaces, preserve and protect our public lands, and help communities dream up new opportunities and support the outdoor recreation economy.”

Cantwell honored Jackson’s memory in a statement: “Scoop Jackson authored one of the all-time great access to public lands bills with the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now making it permanent in law gives certainty to the priority of public lands in America.”

The LWCF legislation is among some 130 public lands bills that have been packaged together, and on Tuesday it earned a 99-1 vote in the Senate to proceed to a final vote, which could come early next week.

A vote could quickly follow in the House, said DelBene, “and reauthorize the program so that our region has access to resources that will help preserve our public lands and help the local economy.”

Among the legislation included in the Natural Resources Management Act are bills that were a focus for Cantwell, including:

The Wildfire Management Technology Act, which seeks to increase safety for wildland firefighters with funding for GPS and drone equipment;

The Methow Headwaters Protection Act, permanently protecting the Methow Valley watershed by removing 340,000 acres of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest from mining development;

Phase III of the Yakima River Basin Enhancement Act, which seeks to restore ecosystems and fisheries and ensure water for communities and farmers, including repair of the Wapato Irrigation Project; and

Designation of Seattle’s new Nordic Museum as the National Nordic Museum.

Renewal of the LWCF and adoption of the package of bills will also add more than 367 miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system, add 2,000 miles to the National Trails system, designate 694,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas, add 42,000 acres to national parks and provide direction to federal agencies to facilitate the enhancement of opportunities on federal lands for hunting and fishing.

As sweeping as the package is, the nation’s public lands still require more attention. Congress, following reauthorization of the LWCF, needs to adequately fund the program itself. The originally legislation calls for $910 million in oil and gas royalties to be set aside for the program’s use each year, but that full funding for the program has rarely been approved and the money is often diverted by Congress for other uses.

Even before the shutdown — which invited abuse and vandalism as parks were left largely unmonitored and unprotected because of the involuntary absence of government employees — the National Parks Service faced a nearly $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance, split equally among road work and buildings, campgrounds, monuments and other facilities.

One avenue that would begin to address that backlog is the National Park Service Legacy Act, which takes its inspiration from the LWCF and would help fund park maintenance through oil and gas royalties.

Following two unnecessary and unproductive lapses for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Senate should take this opportunity to adopt the public lands package and send it to the House for its adoption and a signature by the president, who can claim it as an example of the unity for which he advocated in this week’s State of the Union address.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Saturday, May 25

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - A worker cleans a jet bridge at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., before passengers board an Alaska Airlines flight, March 4, 2019. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines owns Horizon Air. Three passengers sued Alaska Airlines on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, saying they suffered emotional distress from an incident last month in which an off-duty pilot, was accused of trying to shut down the engines of a flight from Washington state to San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: FAA bill set to improve flight safety, experience

With FAA reauthorization, Congress proves it’s capable of legislating and not just throwing shade.

The author’s 19-year-old niece, Veronika, was among seven people killed by a gunman on May 23, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif.
Comment: I lost my niece to gun violence 10 years ago this week

Since then, Washington state voters and lawmakers have taken bold steps to discourage gun violence.

Comment: Reroute of Harvey Field runway not worth flood risk

Without a projected need for expansion, the work risks flooding impacts to wildlife and residents.

Forum: How we employ hope in our work toward what we hope for

When reaching goals takes time, do we use hope to sustain us or to redefine what we sought in the first place?

Forum: As goes Boeing, so goes state funding for schools

Boeing tried to update the 737 on the cheap. The state has done the same in funding schools.

Tufekci: Scarlett Johanson’s voice isn’t only thing AI is after

Humanity’s collective creative output is being repurposed and monetized as AI companies see fit.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

The vessel Tonga Chief, a 10-year-old Singaporean container ship, is moored at the Port of Everett Seaport in November, 2023, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)
Editorial: Leave port tax issue for campaign, not the ballot

Including “taxing district” on ballot issue to expand the Port of Everett’s boundaries is prejudicial.

Schwab: MAGA GOP threatens supply chain of gobs to smack

Even if you ration your gobs, the week’s Republican outrages have created a nationwide shortage.

Alternative is needed to 8-hour shutdown of I-5

I was in the catastrophic I-5 backup on May 16 trying to… Continue reading

Herald, please bring back Today in History, professional sports scores

First off, thank you for continuing to publish The Herald. I have… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.