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Congress Needs to Fund Conservation Program

One year after the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was made permanent, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are coming together to give the program the funding it needs to conserve nature in West Virginia and across America.

Sen. Joe Manchin D-W.Va., with Sen. Cory Gardner R-Co. and a suite of bipartisan co-sponsors, on Monday introduced a package that would fully and permanently fund LWCF and address the backlog of maintenance issues at our country’s national parks.

The bill, the Great American Outdoors Act, is truly bipartisan, garnering support from dozens of Republicans and Democrats including, importantly, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito R-W.Va.

President Donald Trump is also vocally supportive. Plus, a diverse array of constituents ranging from businesses to nonprofits to industry trade groups–and millions of Americans, including many in West Virginia–want want Congress to take action on these critical issues.

The great support for LWCF is not surprising. Over its 54-year history, LWCF has protected baseball fields, historic sites and recreation areas in nearly every county in the United States, including some of the most spectacular places in West Virginia, like the Monongahela National Forest, Cheat Canyon and New River Gorge.

These are special places where West Virginia families hike, hunt, fish, cycle, camp and simply enjoy the beauty of nature. With spring nearly upon us, we know many of you are enjoying these places.

To continue protecting West Virginia’s special places like Seneca Rocks, LWCF must be fully funded at its authorized level of $900 million annually. None of that money comes from taxpayers’ wallets–it is instead derived from offshore oil and gas revenues.

That investment not only protects nature, but also boosts local economies and improves quality of life. In West Virginia alone, the outdoor recreation industry generates 91,000 direct jobs and $9 billion in consumer spending, $2.4 billion in wages and salaries and $660 million each year in state and local tax revenue through activities such as white water rafting, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and more.

Besides the benefits to economy and to the environment, the lands and waters protected by LWCF also improve drinking water quality, buffer communities from flooding, reduce wildfire risk and preserve our nation’s history.

That’s why it’s crucial that Congress pass the Great American Outdoors Act.

Fully and permanently funding LWCF is the right thing to do for the nation and the right thing to do for West Virginia. Senator Manchin knows this well, and we commend Senator Manchin for his long-time leadership. We also appreciate the support of Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who recently signed on to co-sponsor this important piece of legislation.

The package addresses two sides of the same coin: fully funding LWCF to protect public lands and make them accessible, as well as restoring national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and public lands to ensure those places are safe and enjoyable for all Americans.

Even in these divided times, nature is bringing people together. We urge lawmakers to follow Manchin’s lead–as well as the example set by the many Republicans and Democrats who have supported these efforts–and vote yes on the Great American Outdoors Act.

Ben Hardesty and Robert Steptoe both are trustees of The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia.

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