Overshadowed by a relentless news cycle, a popular federal program that helped purchase and develop land in the Spokane area expired Sunday.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, started in 1964, takes a small percentage of royalties from private offshore oil and gas leasing. That money is available in the form of grants to state and local governments. The fund has helped purchase and preserve federal lands, including parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and monuments. No taxpayer money is used.
Bills in the U.S. House and Senate would have permanently reauthorized the fund, including one co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
UPDATE (October 2): Cantwell’s bill passed out of the committee Tuesday. The bill is headed to the Senate. A spokesperson for Cantwell said the senator hopes the bill is considered by the end of the year.
This year, five projects in Washington received more than $2 million from LWCF. That included a $500,000 to Spokane County for work at Bidwell Park.
“These grants are another reminder of why it’s critical we reauthorize and permanently fund the LWCF as soon as possible,” Cantwell said in a statement last week, before the fund expired.
In the Spokane area, the fund has made the purchase of several beloved recreation spots possible over the decades.
In 1990, the City of Spokane received $150,000 to fund the development of Friendship Park. In 1984, Washington State Parks received $550,000 to acquire land by the little Spokane River, and in 1983, Washington State Parks used $43,442 of LWCF funds to develop trails on Mt. Spokane, according to data from Investigate Northwest.
LWCF funds have been used in more than 15 Spokane County projects.
According to data from the Department of the Interior, the LWCF helped fund more than 40,000 state projects equaling nearly $4 billion.
Several groups decried the lapsing of the fund in news releases Sunday.
A sampling of the responses, via news release, decrying the expiration are copied below:
“We are extremely disappointed that Congress is letting one of the most popular and bipartisan programs which supports our nation’s public lands and outdoor recreation opportunities expire before the November elections,” said Amy Roberts, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association in a release. “Our public lands are one of our nation’s underlying unifiers, not to mention that they help to fuel the growing $887 billion outdoor recreation economy. We were glad to see the leadership from Congressman Bishop and Senator Murkowski to take up LWCF in their committees,” Roberts continued, “and we remain hopeful that Congress will do right by our nation’s outdoors and fully fund and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund when they return after the elections. In the meantime, OIA will use every tool at its disposal to inform our members and local communities about LWCF’s impact to their daily lives and why it is vital to get it reauthorized and fully funded. We urge everyone who cares about our public lands to contact their representatives in Congress and tell them to get LWCF reauthorized once and for all.”
“The land and water conservation fund is arguably the best tool we have to increase public access to our public lands. Best of all, LWCF doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime because it’s paid for by revenues from onshore natural resource development,” said Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) in a statement. “LWCF is also a driver of Montana’s growing 7 billion dollar a year economy. Folks from across the globe visit Montana to experience our unmatched public lands. Their visit helps us to sustain more than 70,000 jobs annually.”
“Preservation of our public lands and our historic battlefields, which are so important to our heritage, requires leadership,” said Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain Director for Vet Voice in a news release. “So far, we have seen none from the Trump administration. LWCF expired today on Secretary Zinke’s watch. He failed to make this bipartisan program a priority, and now our parks, history, and legacy are under threat. This administration simply does not care about preserving our military heritage or protecting these sites for future generations.”
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