In 1965, Congress did something pretty extraordinary; it created the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The idea was simple: use revenues from the depletion of one natural resource-offshore oil and gas-to support conservation of our other precious resources-our land and water.
Every year, energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf put $900 million into the fund. This is to be used to “conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation.” And nearly every year, Congress diverts some of these funds for other uses. So that’s one issue that needs to be fixed.
The other issue is that this is the last year of its authorization. That’s right-the Land and Water Conservation Fund is set to expire this Sept 30. For 50 years, this fund has provided critical funding for land and water conservation projects, outdoor recreation access and our nation’s historic, cultural and iconic landmarks. But it could go away.
Here in Idaho, about $234 million from the fund have supported a wide variety of projects. Some of this funding has been used to develop parks, playgrounds and interpretive areas across the state, including the Boise Greenbelt, Ghormley Park in Moscow, the Pocatello Zoo, Snake River Park in Idaho Falls, and Tubbs Hill in Coeur d’Alene.
The fund has also been used to secure public access and conserve fish and wildlife habitat. Just a few of the places in Idaho that have benefited from the fund are the City of Rocks, Clearwater Wild and Scenic River, Craters of the Moon, Middle Fork Salmon Wild and Scenic River, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, St. Joe Wild and Scenic River and the upper Snake and South Fork Rivers.
If you’re interested, The Wilderness Society published an interactive map where you can find all the projects (a mass of red dots!) that have been funded in the past.
We need our congressional delegation to speak up. Not only should they support (or even cosponsor) reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but Congress should also fully funding the program.
So far, Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo support the reauthorization, but Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador have yet to sign on. You can let them all know that you want this program reauthorized and dedicated to conservation projects.