Lawmakers asked to fund Land and Water Conservation Fund

Future of conservation program uncertain

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev / Full article from the Bend Bulletin

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell pressed Senate appropriators Wednesday to approve the Obama administration’s 2016 budget request of $13.2 billion for the agency, including $900 million for Land and Water Conservation Fund projects.

“This is, dollar for dollar, one of the most effective government programs we have,” Jewell told members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, including Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

First enacted in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund uses gas and oil receipts from drilling on the outer continental shelf to conserve national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness and Civil War battlefields, and to develop and support state and local parks.

By law, the fund may receive $900 million each year, but it rarely receives its full allotment, and $17 billion has been allocated for other purposes over the last 50 years.

Legislation authorizing the fund to distribute money to various projects will expire at the end of September.

President Obama’s 2016 budget calls for funding the program at its maximum of $900 million, and includes money for several projects in Oregon.

The biggest project for Oregon is the Pathways to the Pacific, which would receive $14 million to stabilize fish runs and improve public access with acquisitions in the Oregon National Historic Trail, the John Day Wild and Scenic River, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and Willapa and Ridgefield national wildlife refuges.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument would receive a $2.6 million grant to acquire almost 2,300 acres, with an additional $3 million slated for land acquisition on Wassen Creek in Suislaw National Forest.

Kelley Beamer, the executive director of the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts said in a prepared statement that LWCF funding has helped preserve many places that Oregonians hold dear.

“It has helped protect working farms, forests and ranches, including most recently the Gilchrist Forest outside Bend. Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Oregon would not be what it is today,” Beamer said.

Late last year, Congress approved $306 million for LWCF projects, meaning many projects that had been vetted and approved did not receive funding.

“Without full funding, some critical projects in Oregon like protecting the east moraine of Wallowa Lake, will never get completed and instead be lost to development or other threats,” Beamer said.

In November, a bipartisan group of 40 senators, including Merkley and fellow Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, wrote to Senate leadership, urging them to help pass a reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Act during the lame duck session. That didn’t happen, and the program will expire at the end of September if Congress doesn’t act.

Merkley said Wednesday that he will use his seat on the Appropriations Committee to keep fighting for full funding for LWCF.

“Oregon’s outdoor spaces are a crucial part of our heritage and what makes our region unique. It’s important that we preserve these special places for our children and grandchildren, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund is a critical tool for creating and preserving public lands,” he said.

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