We must keep fighting for LWCF

By Greg McReynolds 

The passage of permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) (included in S.47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act) ) is a win for all Americans who go outside. Signed by the president on Tuesday, it’s a win for anglers, for lovers of birds, for city parks and swimming pools, for zoos and river walks and hiking trails. It’s also win for Congress, who put aside partisan bickering to pass legislation that will positively impact the lives of millions of Americans.  

LWCF had a great 50-year run before it expired in 2015, was temporarily reauthorized for three years, then expired again in 2018. Permanent reauthorization means we will no longer have to fight to keep the program alive. This is great news. Unfortunately, even this important step forward is not enough to secure this program as lawmakers have failed to fully fund the program. In the 50-plus years of LWCF, it has been fully funded only once by Congress. It is important to note that LWCF is not paid for by tax dollars. Rather, LWCF is funded by a share of offshore oil and gas revenue set aside for improving outdoor recreation and access for the citizens of our great nation. Unfortunately, most years, many of those dollars end up being siphoned elsewhere in the budget, put to uses for which they were not intended.  

The program has accomplished great things, but without full funding, the LWCF is like a sportscar with an empty tank of gas. This year, the proposed 2020 budget released by the White House doesn’t just slash LWCF funding for public land acquisitions, it cancels out balances and strips existing funding for conservation grants, resulting in a total drop of $454 million in discretionary LWCF funding, down from $435 million last year. That not only takes away all the discretionary funding for America’s most successful conservation program, it puts it in the hole. 

Last fall, a colleague and friend caught her first Yellowstone cutthroat. She sight-cast a dry fly to a 17-inch fish, finning in gin clear water. The sun was dropping low, lighting the top of the Caribou Range as darkness fell on the river. The fish rose, sipped a stimulator, and then broke the quiet and still of the evening as it fought and leapt and thrashed. The fish was netted and released, the rod stowed, and the silence broken again by laughter as we rowed the last mile to the takeout in the dark.  

The South Fork of the Snake River is an oft-cited example of what makes the Land and Water Conservation Fund such a critical tool for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. It’s tempting to tell you that the South Fork, my backyard river, is the ultimate expression of what LWCF does and can do. The truth of what LWCF is and how it impacts our lives might be less scenic, but it is much closer to home and to our beginnings.  

I learned to water ski on a reservoir where LWCF money paid for public access via a state park. My first Boy Scout camping trip was at a state park paid for with LWCF money. I played high school tennis on courts paid for with LWCF funds. My best springer spaniel learned hand signals on open space in Albuquerque, paid for with LWCF money.  

The South Fork and other places like it may be the poster children for LWCF, but it’s the boat ramps and baseball diamonds, the city parks and urban fisheries that give young people the chance to go outside and find a love of the outdoors.  

If we want future generations of Americans to go outside and fall in love with outdoor recreation, we have to do more than just reauthorize LWCF. President Trump’s budget proposal underscores that  we have to keep fighting for LWCF until the program receives full, dedicated funding. 

Greg McReynolds is the public lands coordinator for the Intermountain West. He lives and works in Pocatello, Idaho.



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