This Land Is Our Land

Time for Congress to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Aahhh, Labor Day weekend — the last gasp for those all-American summer pastimes of camping, hiking, fishing and backpacking. This holiday millions of Americans will take advantage of the long weekend to make one more adventure into our beautiful public lands before the responsibilities of fall descend. But if Congress doesn’t fulfill some of its responsibilities when lawmakers return from their August recess, the funding that sustains outdoor recreation and backwoods escape will be greatly reduced.

man fly-fishing in a lakePhoto by Joseph/FlickrSince its establishment in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped protect more than 5 million acres of natural landscapes and wildlife areas.

At the end of September, a long-standing public lands law will expire unless Congress renews it. During the last 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has pumped billions of dollars into federal and state programs to protect landscapes from reckless development and to help steward existing parks and wildlife areas. Now, however, ideological disagreements over the scope of the federal government have put in jeopardy this important land protection program.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is an especially smart kind of public policy. The fund takes a portion of the royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling and uses those monies to pay for the acquisition of new nature preserves, as well as the maintenance of trails and facilities in national parks, national forests, and other public lands. The fund is sort of like environmental instant karma: It uses monies from activities that come with clear environmental risks to pay for activities that boast clear environmental benefits. And it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime; fossil fuel companies pick up the tab.

Since its establishment in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped protect more than 5 million acres, including parts of Grand Canyon National Park and the Appalachian Trail. Monies from the fund are frequently used to match state government spending or non-governmental efforts to protect new lands. The only problem is that Congress often raids the fund to fund other projects. Only twice in the fund’s 50-year history have all of the up to $900 million in annual revenues gone to public lands programs.

Traditionally, the fund has enjoyed overwhelming support on Capitol Hill. It’s popular among birdwatchers as well as hunters, a hit with both the Sierra Club set and the Field & Stream scene. A love of the outdoors crosses partisan lines, and that spirit of bipartisanship was on display earlier this year when the Senate passed a reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

But the legislation is stuck in the House, where Utah Republican Rob Bishop, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, is holding it up. Bishop, a staunch opponent of federal powers, wants most of the fund’s spending to go to state park departments, which he believes will use the money better than the federal land management agencies.

State and local parks are important — no question about it. But Congressman Bishop’s enthusiasm is misplaced on this issue. After all, public lands in Utah don’t just belong to Utahns; they belong to all Americans. Since the monies that support the fund come from fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, they should be spent on sustaining national parks and forests, which often have higher levels of protection than state parks.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is savvy public policy that is proven and popular. It deserves to be not only sustained, but strengthened with a legal guarantee that all of its revenues will be spent on land preservation and stewardship that meets the highest standards of protection. Congress’ support of the law will help guarantee that Americans continue to have plenty of opportunities for outdoor getaways for many holiday weekends to come.

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Donate
Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

The Latest

A Brown Tide Threatens Coastal Ecosystems

Sargassum beaching events may be a new normal in the Caribbean Sea.

Richard Arghiris

Why is Biden Considering this Man to Help Fight the Climate Crisis?

Ernest Moniz’s link to fossil fuels ‘is his entire professional career for the last couple decades, which is deeply concerning.’

Emily Holden The Guardian

The Lessons We Might Learn from Mosses

In a year of quarantine and remote learning, my children and I have found solace in the mossy world of our backyard forest.

Rachel Sturges

The Last Remaining Flocks of Gallos de León are Dwindling

For centuries, chicken breeders in a rural corner of Spain have produced feathers prized by fly fishermen. But economic hardships and environmental degradation threaten to end a way of life.

Bridget Ryder

Climate Activists Ramp Up Pressure on Biden with Protest Outside Democratic Headquarters

Groups to camp in Washington DC in protest of Biden’s hires of key staff with connections to the oil and gas industry.

Emily Holden The Guardian

Ferment. Foment: Food, Loss, and Belonging in a Foreign Land

Reclaiming one’s culinary heritage is a form of both coping and resistance. Collectively, such efforts are part of the larger struggles for social, economic, and environmental justice.

Rubeena Mahato