As the 114th Congress gets under way, time will tell what members’ actions will mean for the future of our nation, our region, and the outdoor places and experiences we treasure. One thing for sure is that any sort of progress is not likely to take place unless our elected officials agree to work together.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is set to expire at the end of September, and it has been an incredibly effective and equitable tool that has been used to protect millions of acres of open space for conservation and recreation over the past half-century. I can’t think of a better opportunity for Congress to work together than to reauthorize and fully fund LWCF.
This critical program has created opportunities for close-to-home outdoor recreation in communities from coast to coast. And the money came not from the U.S. budget, nor through citizen taxation, but from the sale of offshore oil leases. Here we have a program in which money from a consumptive use of natural resources is applied to conservation of open spaces, at no cost to taxpayers.
If there is any question about voter support for land conservation, the recent midterm elections should put that to rest. In November, voters in 19 states, red and blue alike, passed 35 ballot measures committing more than $13 billion to land conservation, according to The Trust for Public Land.
The economy and jobs were also issues in the midterm election, and protecting land helps to support local economies. The Outdoor Industry Association trade group reports that outdoor recreation generates $646 billion in direct spending nationwide annually, and is responsible for more than 6 million American jobs.
AMC’s trails and conservation staffs are especially concerned about Congressional trails funding in the new year. Future support will be dependent upon the health of the federal Highway Trust Fund, which itself is at risk. Here, Congress has the opportunity to support both our nation’s transportation infrastructure and our recreational trails.
And as we went to press, reauthorization of the Highlands Conservation Act had not taken place. If that is still the case when the new Congress convenes, we and our Highlands Coalition colleagues will again ask for a bipartisan effort to reauthorize this act, which supports land conservation in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Americans have gained quite a lot when Congress has pursued a vision for what was right for the country—and right for the environment. For example, this past year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and the nearly 110 million acres of land it has protected. This landmark achievement became reality because the majority of legislators from both sides of the aisle put aside their differences and came together to pass this progressive measure.
We urge Congress to work together this session, and beyond, to invest in the continued integrity of our air, water, public lands, and open spaces—investments that make good environmental and economic sense.
Reauthorization of LWCF would be a great place to start.
CALL TO ACTION
John D. Judge