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Protecting Natural Treasures in W.Va.

Whether it is the forests of Monongahela or the winding waters of New River Gorge, the lands and waters of West Virginia create and define our history, our character and our way of life. The wild and scenic spaces that surround us here are more than just land and waterways; they are an important part of our heritage and identity.

Many of these places that we treasure have been protected thanks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of our country’s most effective conservation tools. At no cost to the taxpayer, LWCF works in West Virginia and across the country to protect the land and water important for a wide range of values, such as wildlife habitat, hiking, hunting, clean water and support for growing the tourism and outdoor recreation economy.

Supported by federal revenues from offshore oil and natural gas drilling, LWCF investments have expanded public access to lakes and streams, conserved working forests, protected national park landscapes and built sports fields, trails and local parks.

In West Virginia, The Nature Conservancy has partnered with others to conserve forests that provide wildlife habitat and products such as timber. The outcomes also represent some of the state’s most cherished landscapes, such as the New River Gorge scene on the back of the state quarter enjoyed by thousands during Bridge Day; Cheat Canyon where West Virginia University students study and recreate; and the Monongahela National Forest where people hunt, hike and fish.

We see these places as part of what makes West Virginia so “wild and wonderful”–part of our success story. We see these places as hubs of conserved lands supporting nature-friendly economic activities that are helping to grow our economy.

But Congress has repeatedly let LWCF expire over the years, making it harder to carry out the long-term planning landowners depend on to conserve their lands and waters and that many communities depend on as they plan for their future.

The latest expiration occurred just this past September, and we have seen a groundswell of support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for making the program permanent since then. On February 12, the U.S. Senate moved to save this important conservation program forever, voting 92-8 to permanently reauthorize LWCF!

We owe great thanks to Senator Manchin and Senator Capito for championing LWCF, voting in favor of saving LWCF and being instrumental to making the vote one of lawmakers’ first priorities of the year!

Senator Manchin and Senator Capito understand how important LWCF is to West Virginia and the country, to our natural and cultural heritage, to our economy and to families who treasure the forests and wildlife habitat where they hike, hunt and enjoy weekend drives. We thank them for their leadership.

Every year, America loses an area the size of Delaware to development, and once these places disappear, they are gone forever. Along with the land, we also lose the values that these places bring to people and communities–clean water, flood mitigation, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, fishing opportunities and support for the forest products, tourism and outdoor recreation industries.

The outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation economy in West Virginia–which LWCF helps drive–is responsible for $9 billion in consumer spending and 91,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Implementing LWCF in our community helps increase tourism, create jobs and boost our economy.

The Senate’s overwhelming bipartisan vote in favor of reauthorization reflects the program’s long track record of success and broad support from lawmakers, landowners, conservation organizations, communities and state and local officials.

We urge Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller to follow the incredible example of their Senate counterparts and vote in favor of permanently reauthorizing LWCF when the House of Representatives consider the measure.

For over half a century, LWFC has protected lands and waters in every county in every state in this country by helping to conserve natural ecosystems that people, wildlife and local economies need to survive. It is too important to continue leaving its future in doubt.

Now is the time for Congress to get LWCF the permanent authorization it and West Virginia deserves.

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