Oregon Conservation Projects Hinge on Fate of Federal Dollars

April 20, 2015

PHOTO: Hikers enjoy the east moraine of Wallowa Lake. Private land along the lake is part of a preservation proposal that depends on Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. Photo credit: Kathleen Ackley, Wallowa Land Trust.

Hikers enjoy the east moraine of Wallowa Lake. Private land along the lake is part of a preservation proposal that depends on Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. Photo credit: Kathleen Ackley, Wallowa Land Trust

PORTLAND, Ore. – Almost every park, trail and scenic view in Oregon has been touched in some way by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But after 50 years, the fund is set to expire this fall.

LWCF is money paid to the federal government by offshore oil and gas developers to be used for conservation and recreation projects, although Congress often diverts most of the money for other purposes.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hears views on the future of the fund. Kelley Beamer, executive director, Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts, says multiple Oregon projects await the outcome.

“Congress does need to reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” says Beamer. “If that doesn’t happen before September, all of the projects that are in the pipeline are at risk. It really does put conservation on the line in Oregon.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is a cosponsor of the most recent legislation to reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF. But some lawmakers have said they think the money should be spent instead on catching up the maintenance backlogs of the federal land management agencies.

One Oregon project has made the “top ten” national priority list for LWCF money. On private land near Wallowa Lake in northeastern Oregon, Beamer says it’s a good example of what these dollars can do, through the LWCF’s Forest Legacy program.

The project would ensure no future development on the land, preserve recreation access to the lake, and keep a working forest producing timber for county revenue and local mill jobs.

“Ranking number 10 out of hundreds of applications is a very big deal,” Beamer says. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund has sort of hobbled along in the past, and typically receives only half of its authorized amount of $900 million. So, it makes it very competitive.”

Most years, she says, dozens of Oregon towns, counties and organizations apply for LWCF dollars, submitting plans for parks, trails and better access to recreation sites and many reapply, year after year, hoping to be considered. Since the 1960s, the fund has brought at least $300 million to the state.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service – OR