I’m a local fisherman, hunter and conservationist who has long enjoyed the abundant wildlife and beautiful public lands of Eastern Washington. Access to these incredible public places – whether it’s chasing steelhead on the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers or redband rainbow trout right here in town at Riverside State Park – is part of why my family calls Spokane our home. The ability to grab my two boys on a weekend and have dozens of places we can recreate free of charge and without question is paramount to my happiness and my family’s happiness. Our priceless public lands and the opportunities for outdoor recreation they offer are more than just our shared natural heritage – they support our region’s quality of life and our local economy.
Right now, our congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, has the chance to support public lands, outdoor recreation and our Inland Northwest region by voting yes on S. 47, the bipartisan Natural Resources Management Act that recently cleared the U.S. Senate 92 to 8. The crown jewel of that public lands bill was permanent reauthorization of the important Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). From helping acquire Dishman Hills Natural Area and funding trails on Mount Spokane, to securing public access to the Spokane River for fishing and boating, the LWCF has directly benefited three generations of my family and thousands of other outdoor users in our area. And we’re not alone: For 54 years the LWCF supported outdoor access and conservation projects, from ball fields and boat ramps to wildlife habitat and hiking trails, in every county across the nation.
A common-sense conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund does all of this without costing taxpayers a dime, since it relies on existing revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling. And, in fact, the fund actually helps grow our state economy by expanding outdoor recreation opportunities. Every year, outdoor recreation activities support more than 200,000 jobs and generate more than $26 billion in consumer spending in Washington, making recreation on public lands one of our state’s biggest industries. We must ensure this important sector of our economy continues to grow by reauthorizing LWCF, which expired needlessly in late 2018 despite broad support from lawmakers, voters and outdoor users across the political spectrum.
In addition to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the bipartisan public lands bill has many other provisions that are good for outdoor recreation, for our economy and for the health of fish and wildlife that sportsmen and women cherish. It will prevent industrial mining activities on some 340,000 acres of federal public land in the upper Methow Valley, where local residents, businesses, farmers and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse have long supported permanent protections. The Methow Headwaters are home to incredible scenery, wild steelhead, threatened spring chinook salmon and our state’s largest migratory mule deer herd. Downstream communities like Winthrop and Twisp boast thriving tourism, recreation and agricultural industries. Whether you’re a farmer who depends on the Methow’s clean water for crops, or a fisherman and hunter like me, we can all agree this is no place for a massive new mine.
The bill also makes reforms in the Yakima basin watershed that will benefit not only fish and wildlife, but farmers and local communities as well. And it encourages the construction of safe target shooting facilities on federal lands with the hopes of encouraging new participants to join the sporting community. With more and more people using the public lands around Spokane for a variety of activities, having safe places to responsibly target shoot is smart public policy for everyone.
During a time when there’s so much divisiveness in the other Washington, it was great to see the Senate come together in such a bipartisan manner to support public lands, outdoor recreation and conservation. Please urge Rep. McMorris Rodgers and the entire Washington House delegation to do the same in voting for this important public lands bill, ensuring that this and future generations will be able to enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and many other outdoor pursuits in the beautiful public lands of Eastern Washington. It’s a bill that’s good for our economy, wildlife, public lands and, most importantly, our children.
Josh Mills is a father and second-generation Spokane resident. A passionate outdoorsman, he supports local hunting, angling and conservation groups, including serving on the board of the Wild Steelhead Coalition and volunteering for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers