Lien: Hunters and anglers support Land and Water Conservation Fund; push for renewal (column)
August 9, 2018
After completing four years of service as an Air Force officer, I jumped at the chance to spend 3½ months traveling across the North American continent. From Alaska to Mexico, California to Texas, Florida to Minnesota, I explored parts of our public lands in 22 states. Since then, I've also been to the highest points in all 50 states, most of which are found on public lands, and have visited 41 countries.
These experiences have shown me that Americans' ownership of public lands is unique and something to be proud of. From local playgrounds to majestic national parks, it's imperative that we preserve and protect our right to enjoy our great public lands estate, and many of these public lands would not be public without the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Although not everyone may be familiar with the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it has been providing funding for public land conservation and recreational infrastructure projects across the country for a half-century.
However, if Congress does not act, then the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire on Sunday, Sept. 30. Established in 1964, the fund does not use taxpayer dollars. Instead, earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing go to federal, state and local governments to acquire and protect forest, water and wildlife areas. As a lifelong hunter, I'm particularly aware of the fund's importance for facilitating conservation of valuable fish and wildlife habitat and improving public access for hunting and fishing.
"Over the past five decades, Colorado has received more than $276 million to protect places like the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument," said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, an ardent Land and Water Conservation Fund supporter. Unfortunately, there are also those — anti-public lands types, generally — who are opposed to the fund.
In a June 2018 Wall Street Journal op-ed, the editors said: "The conservation program is largely a slush fund for government land grabs, but it's politically untouchable because it reminds people of Old Faithful and camping trips." Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (a veteran and a self-described outdoorsman) said he supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but he cut the program's acquisition budget by 95 percent in the fiscal 2019 budget proposal.
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Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars oftentimes go toward purchasing inholdings: privately owned property within the boundaries of a national park or other protected area. The idea is to keep someone from building, say, a trophy home in the middle of Grand Teton National Park.
Another example: targeted, specific acquisitions with broad local support, such as routes to popular trails or climbing areas that are sometimes on private property. In working with local communities and willing, private landowners, those kinds of surgical acquisitions can exponentially increase conservation and recreation values.
In a letter to Sen. Steve Daines and Sen. Angus King, of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney wrote, in part, "Hunters and anglers depend on public lands to access the outdoors and create memories with family and friends. According to a recent study by the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), an estimated … 72 percent of hunters located in the west depend on public lands."
A guest commentary penned jointly by Tawney and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard published by the Denver Post ("Hunters, hikers unite to protect beloved public lands, waters," Monday, July 23) continues Tawney's statement of support for the fund.
"(The Land and Water Conservation Fund has) … helped protect 5 million acres and generated $4 in economic value for every $1 invested," they wrote. "Nearly every county in America has benefited — all without depending on taxpayer dollars. Our congressional leaders need to put aside their differences — just like we have — and reauthorize the (Land and Water Conservation Fund) for the good of our citizens."
In Congress, Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, has been leading a cross-party push to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, introduced bipartisan legislation earlier this year to achieve that goal.
It's time to take this political football out of the hands of ideologically overcharged politicians. Time is running out. A bill needs to pass by Sept. 30. If you value public spaces afforded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, then make your voice heard and contact your elected officials.
David Lien is a former Air Force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He's the author of "Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation" and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a Hero of Conservation.