America’s public land — from Charleston’s local parks and hiking trails to awe-inspiring national parks and monuments — are wildly popular. As such, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a federal program focused on funding our public land. It’s called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, and it enjoys thoroughly bipartisan support among elected leaders.
The LWCF is a little-known program, but it has had a major impact in West Virginia, as well as in the Charleston area. For example, the Gauley River National Recreation Area and Kanawha State Forest have received LWCF funds. The state has received $241 million from the fund, and the city of Charleston has received more than $900,000, including a grant for the North Charleston Swimming Pool and grants for pool, playground and playing field additions to Cato Park.
Federal lawmakers from West Virginia and across the country get how valuable the fund is for protecting and enhancing the outdoor spaces we love. In fact, even in these deeply partisan times, Congress reauthorized LWCF last year by votes of 92-8 in the Senate and 363-62 in the House.
Despite such deep and broad support, the Trump administration has decided to thumb its nose at this successful program. In his recently proposed budget, the president earmarked just $14.8 million for this program, which is a mere fraction of the $485 million in the final budget from last year.
Simply put, cutting this amount will do damage to so many beloved places where we’ve picnicked, hiked or just sat back and enjoyed our state’s natural beauty. And this is true throughout the country. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has conserved and enhanced landscapes large and small by helping every single county across the country with projects.
Such a dizzying array of conservation projects simply will not be possible if the administration’s proposed funding stands. The LWCF law called for $900 million annually to be invested into conserving our public land. Not only is the Trump administration’s proposal a 97% cut from last year, it also reflects a deep misunderstanding of the importance of this vital program.
Our public land and outdoor places deserve better. Thankfully, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has a solution. He is the lead sponsor of a bill in the Senate — the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act — which would safeguard the annual $900 million that LWCF was intended to receive. Hopefully, there is the political will to make this happen. A promising sign is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recently referenced LWCF as a rare opportunity for bipartisan agreement in the House and Senate.
That said, we should never take for granted anything that might happen in Washington. We must push lawmakers to ignore the Trump administration’s efforts to practically defund the program and, instead, make passing new legislation that fully funds LWCF in perpetuity a priority. Doing so will go a long way toward making sure we always have the money to keep the public land we love accessible and beautiful.