Make permanent commitment to fund public lands

I have the honor of representing one of the most beautiful and diverse districts in the country.

Washington’s First District is home to stunning open spaces including the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, the North Cascades National Park and North Creek Forest. Taking care of our natural resources and protecting our environment is critical to preserving the quality of life we cherish.

Unfortunately, conservation has not been a high enough priority for Congress recently. Last year, Congress irresponsibly let the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) expire for nearly three months. The LWCF was established 50 years ago to maintain outdoor recreational opportunities nationwide. It is the only federal program dedicated to the conservation of our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, state and local parks and working forests. Since its inception, this program has invested $637 million in Washington projects alone, including three grants for North Creek Forest, a 64-acre park in Bothell.

While the LWCF has since been reauthorized for three years as a part of the omnibus spending bill Congress passed at the end of 2015, we cannot and should not risk defunding this vital program again. That’s why I am proud to cosponsor a bill (H.R. 1814) that would permanently reauthorize the LWCF.

A wonderful organization called Friends of North Creek Forest and a college student named Jordan from University of Washington-Bothell gave me a tour of the forest this past August. For his senior thesis, Jordan has worked with the community and conservation activists to clean up the forest and design new trails for hikers and hundreds of students to enjoy.

This forest is a safe and healthy place for our families and kids to have fun and connect to the outdoors while learning about species diversity and the importance of conservation efforts. Friends of North Creek Forest are working to expand this great space by 22 acres, part of which will be funded through the LWCF. And this is just one project among thousands across the country.

The LWCF has conserved iconic landscapes in every state and is responsible for more than 40,000 state and local outdoor recreation projects such as playgrounds, parks, refuges and baseball fields. What’s more, these projects come at no cost to taxpayers because the LWCF is funded through oil and gas receipts paid by energy companies.

Without a permanent authorization for this critical environmental program, Washington’s outdoor recreation industry and environmental conservation projects could be needlessly harmed. Not only is LWCF crucial for protecting the beautiful Pacific Northwest, it is also important for our economy.

Studies have found that every dollar invested in land conservation or improvement generates a $4 return for communities. In Washington alone, outdoor recreation supports more than 200,000 jobs and contributes $20 billion per a year to our local economy.

Our state boasts some of our nation’s most amazing forests, mountains and waterways, and I will continue working to ensure their preservation for future generations. As someone who loves hiking and the outdoors, I know firsthand that the natural environment surrounding us is what makes living in the Pacific Northwest so special.

Many talk about the debt we’ll be leaving for the next generation, with little regard for the environment we’re leaving our children and grandchildren. We cannot risk allowing environmental conservation programs like the LWCF to lapse. Congress should permanently reauthorize the LWCF to preserve our natural resources for future generations.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, represents the First Congressional District.

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