Opinion: Congress Should Act Now to Renew Land & Water Conservation Fund

The Nature Conservancy says fund is a wise investment in West Virginia

Beth Wheatley, The Nature Conservancy's director of External Affairs for the West Virginia Chapter and a native West Virginian, stands in the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area, public lands that were recently aquired by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources in Mingo County.

Fall is the most beautiful time in the Mountain State and, as tremendous amounts of residents and tourists travel through West Virginia this time of year, we are reminded how important our forests, streams and access to hiking and hunting opportunities really are. The beautiful places that surround us in West Virginia and throughout the country are more than just land and water; they are an important part of our heritage and our growing tourism and outdoor recreation economy.

Whether it is the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Monongahela National Forest or the New River Gorge National River, these lands and waters reflect our history, our character and our way of life. We can enjoy and benefit from these public lands thanks to continued investments from the Land & Water Conservation Fund.

We are in danger of losing the LWCF, one of the most effective tools for protecting our nation’s outdoor recreation, historical, and cultural sites if Congress does not act to renew this month. LWCF is set to expire September 30.

Over $241 million in LWCF monies have been invested in West Virginia’s lands and waters. These investments have expanded public access to lakes and streams, built sports fields, trails and local parks, conserved working forests and protected West Virginia iconic places. Countless communities rely on LWCF to provide public access to the outdoors, bolster their economies, safeguard key historic sites and conserve irreplaceable natural and recreation landscapes.

And, these funds have helped ensure we have a balanced approach where we have been able to keep our beautiful landscapes for people to enjoy and to support the outdoor recreation economy and smartly developing around these iconic places.

Furthermore, LWCF’s Forest Legacy Program grants help protect working forests that support timber sector jobs and sustainable forest operations while enhancing wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation. State grants have further supported hundreds of projects across West Virginia’s state and local parks, including Cacapon State Park and Canaan Valley State Park.

The LWCF does not use our tax dollars–it is funded by royalties oil companies pay to the government for offshore drilling. Its investments leverage state, local and nonprofit funding to deliver lasting results in communities across West Virginia and across the country.

Regrettably, this vitally important program regularly receives only a fraction of its full funding each year and will expire at the end of September unless Congress acts.

Renewing LWCF not only makes sense to ensure our children’s and grandchildren’s continued enjoyment of West Virginia’s beautiful lands and waters; it makes sense for our state’s economy. The outdoor recreation economy in West Virginia is responsible for $9 billion in consumer spending and 91,000 jobs, and generates $2.4 billion in wages and salaries and $660 million annually in state and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

For over half a century, LWFC has conserved lands and waters in every county in every state in this country. It helps to protect working forests and irreplaceable natural landscapes that people, wildlife and local economies need to survive. LWCF is too important to continue leaving its future in doubt.

Now is the time for Congress to permanently authorize and fully fund the Land & Water Conservation Fund.

Thomas Minney is the state director of The Nature Conservancy of West Virginia. Beth Wheatley is the conservancy’s director of external affairs and strategic initiatives.

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