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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Congress must extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in less than 100 days, and Washingtonians in particular should be alarmed.

It was Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson who authored the founding legislation 50 years ago, and the fund has helped preserve thousands of acres of public and private land, and enhanced recreation opportunities in every county; almost every neighborhood.

In Spokane County, for example, LWCF funds enhanced protection of the Little Spokane River and Dishman Hills natural areas, but it is not just those who like their adventure on the wild side that benefit.

The LWCF funded improvement at Friendship and High Bridge parks in Spokane, and Sunset Park in Airway Heights. A total of 18 projects in the county are among the almost 600 that have received some portion of the state’s $600 million share of LWCF money.

Another $173 million has been invested in Idaho to preserve watersheds and other lands. An associated effort, the Forest Legacy Program, has contributed another $22 million toward preservation of timberland that might otherwise be developed.

Many residents in both states might not recognize their surroundings had the LWCF not been created. And it costs them nothing.

The money comes from revenues off federal oil and gas leases. The sum was fixed at $900 million annually, and has never been adjusted for inflation or as a share of the lease income.

Instead, Congress has consistently raided the fund. Of more than $9 billion in lease revenues in fiscal year 2013, the LWCF received $305 million.

Yet LWCF projects may be among the best investments Congress has made in the last half-century.

The Outdoor Industry Association, admittedly not an unbiased source, estimates LWCF projects help support 227,000 jobs in Washington, generating $7.1 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenues. For the nation, the total is 9.4 million jobs and $1 trillion in economic activity.

The program has broad, bipartisan support, but like many other popular federal initiatives the LWCF has become just one chip in Congress’ winner-take-credit poker game. It’s time to shut up and deal.

The LWCF runs 25 years. Congress renewed it once, but must act again by Sept. 30. Ideally, the allocation from lease revenues would be protected from congressional larceny, and the program would be made permanent. After 50 years, the fund has more than proved itself.

Rep. Dave Reichert, whose district straddles the Cascade Mountains, has seen the benefits on both sides. During a news conference this week, he spoke fondly of his own experience with children and grandchildren in the outdoors, but noted as well how Washington’s environments attract visitors from all over the world.

“LWCF is a crucial part of making our state a beautiful place to live,” he said. “We can’t afford to let it expire this fall.”

The 97 calendar days remaining will shrink to a few weeks of congressional activity. It should take about one minute to get this done.