A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

One Small Program, One Big Investment in Lands, Waters and Communities

As the clock ticks on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Congress has a chance to save it.

Don't let the sun set on the Land &
Water Conservation Fund.
You may have not heard of a small, but vital federal program, but you have surely benefited from it, whether you enjoy the great outdoors or not, whether you stay in the Monadnock Region or enjoy trips to the White Mountains or other great places.

If you enjoy clean water, fresh air, healthy lands, vibrant communities and a robust economy, you’ve benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

And unless Congress acts soon, it’s about to expire, leaving you, me and every American with an enormous lost opportunity to further invest in the very things that we cherish most.

Since 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has used a small percentage of revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling to invest in lands, water, recreation and working landscapes. LWCF uses no taxpayer dollars. None.

Its investments have created or enhanced local and state parks, working farms and forests, wildlife refuges, national forests, historic battlefields, cultural sites and access for hunting and fishing.

Those investments have been made near you. Here in New Hampshire LWCF has provided $150 million over the past five decades, boosting local projects such as Temple Mountain State Reservation, Shattuck Pond in Francestown, Humiston Field in Jaffrey, Adams Playground in Peterborough, Gregg Lake Beach in Antrim and the list goes on. Other projects include land protection for the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge along the Connecticut River and the White Mountains National Forest

The program has helped projects in all 50 states and 98 percent of all U.S. counties, supporting protection of 3 million acres of recreation lands and more than 29,000 recreation facilities, matched by local monies and driven by local priorities.

Across the country, national parks, refuges, and forests have been created or enhanced through LWCF funding. These national lands protect our history; they ensure outdoor recreation opportunities that tally up some 407 million visits each year; they secure opportunities for fishing, hunting, hiking and countless other activities.

When Congress passed the LWCF 50 years ago, lawmakers did so knowing that outdoor recreation is fundamental to our well-being and healthy communities. And we now better understand that healthy natural places can help safeguard our communities. Forests serve as natural filters for our drinking water. Salt marshes and shellfish reefs can blunt the impact of coastal storms.

Healthy Lands, Vibrant Economy

These investments not only enhance and safeguard our way of life, they help our economy.

Hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor recreation activities contribute a total of $725.5 billion annually to the economy, supporting 6.15 million jobs (one of every 20 jobs in the United States) and stimulating 8 percent of all consumer spending. The ripple effect of outdoor recreation activities is even greater, with an estimated economic impact of $1.2 trillion and an estimated employment impact of 12 million jobs annually.

That economic impact is real from the local scale – from an angler’s purchase of bait and soda – to the collective strength of millions of outdoor-related purchases each year throughout the country. In New Hampshire alone, outdoor recreation generates $4.2 billion in consumer spending each year, supporting some 49,000 jobs.

It all sounds great, right?

The Challenge to Save LWCF

Well, the LWCF is in serious trouble. But right now, we have a slim opportunity to save it.
The LWCF is set to expire on September 30. If Congress does not reauthorize LWCF, we can’t continue to make these wise investments in our green spaces, our parks and trails, the places that make ourselves and our communities whole and healthy.

And while the program is authorized to receive a small percentage of offshore oil and gas revenues – up to $900 million per year – most of those funds have been diverted elsewhere. With America losing 1 million acres of working farms, forests and ranches each year, it’s critical that LWCF receive its full funding for future generations.

As September 30 comes near, your congressional representatives need to hear from you. In New Hampshire, our U.S. senators and representatives are strong supporters of the LWCF. But in other states, not all are on board, and our delegation can help raise the bipartisan support that LWCF has historically enjoyed.

The clock is ticking. I hope Granite Staters will speak up, and that Congress will help ensure quick action to renew and fully fund LWCF.

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.

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