Hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts across the country are uniting in support of our public lands and waters. Our lives are defined by the moments we spend outdoors, whether it’s chasing ruffed grouse in a remote aspen forest, stalking wild turkey on a hillside or hiking on a national wildlife refuge minutes away from Washington, D.C.
Yet moments like these rely on our willingness and ability to support the programs that make them possible. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of these programs, and fully funding it can help us conserve them and keep them accessible.
Sportsmen and women understand the value of investing in conservation and access. No better tool exists for doing this than the LWCF. Every state in the nation has benefitted from the popular, bipartisan program, which funds everything from community ballparks to fishing access sites.
The LWCF’s only problem? Its funding — $900 million annually — is subject to the appropriations process, leaving the program underfunded. However, bipartisan legislation in Congress would fully fund the LWCF.
Hunters, anglers, business owners, ranchers, loggers and local communities support the LWCF. The return on investment is clear: $900 million is a no-brainer investment in our $887 billion outdoor economy and the 7.6 million Americans it employs.
Recently, Congress overwhelmingly voted to pass a historic public lands package that includes permanent reauthorization for the LWCF. However, without reliable funding, the program is still in jeopardy.
Congress has diverted more than $20 billion away from the LWCF over its 50-plus years in existence. It currently is only 50 percent funded. Even while Congress was voting to reauthorize it permanently, President Donald Trump put the program back on the chopping block, zeroing out the LWCF’s budget in the White House budget request for fiscal year 2020.
Our failure to properly fund the LWCF won’t just hurt our economy — it also could result in future generations having fewer opportunities to experience the places we love. The LWCF has given Americans the opportunity to spend quality time and make memories outdoors with our families and friends. LWCF dollars have supported more than 40,000 projects ranging from humble ballparks in urban neighborhoods to high-altitude Western elk habitat.
Legislation currently being considered by Congress capitalizes on momentum created by the passage of the public lands package and would dedicate full funding to the LWCF. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill have drawn the outspoken support of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Yet there is still not nearly enough urgency to ensure success.
Conservation requires collaboration between Washington lawmakers and the millions of Americans who rely on access to the outdoors. As a hunter and angler, I’ve seen firsthand what we can achieve when we work together in support of important lands and waters and valuable fish and wildlife habitat.
It’s time our leaders in Congress roll up their sleeves and commit to dedicating permanent annual funding to the LWCF and provide resource advocates with the stability and predictability they seek through consistent funding levels. Our outdoor traditions depend on it.
Julia Peebles is the government relations manager for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
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