For all the talk about a “divided” government and partisan politics, it’s good to remember that people of all stripes share a love of our public lands. Americans also recognize the value of programs that invest in parks and public lands locally, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
That’s certainly true for West Virginia, where so many of us enjoy outdoor traditions in our national forests, wild rivers and local parks.
In my case, Kanawha State Forest has always held a special place in my heart. As a kid growing up in Charleston, my family and I were frequent visitors to hike, have picnics or to participate in park-sponsored activities. Today, my wife and I enjoy the chance to get back to nature by walking our dogs through the forest after work or on weekends.
LWCF is a promise that was made in 1964: As energy is extracted for private profit from public offshore waters, a small sliver of those funds should be returned to the public by investing in conservation, for the benefit of future generations.
Since then, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has delivered. It has invested in parks and rec centers in virtually every county in the United States.
Over that half century, LWCF has brought roughly $250 million to West Virginia to improve access to parks, forests and waterways. That includes investments in the Gauley River National Recreation Area, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Monongahela National Forest and the New River Gorge, as well as many neighborhood parks and rec centers.
But here’s the problem. Congress rarely provides LWCF with the $900 million annually that the law provides for. Since it was created in 1964, LWCF has received the promised funding level only twice. In fact, over the program’s history, Congress has siphoned away for non-conservation purposes about $22 billion that was supposed to go to LWCF.
So that promise made in 1964 has not been kept.
But West Virginia is fortunate to have champion for LWCF in Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.. As the senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the minority side, Sen. Manchin serves as leader in shepherding vital, commonsense legislation through that committee and through the Senate.
A few months ago, Congress approved and the president signed a popular, bipartisan law that permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation. But Congress still needs to establish permanent and dedicated funding for LWCF at the promised $900 million amount. Remember, the $900 million has not been updated for inflation and it doesn’t go as far as it did in 1964. But even still, Congress has shortchanged the program nearly every year since.
Full and reliable funding is vital to this land investments and improvements which can require years of planning for each project. When local planners don’t know whether Congress will actually provide funds in any given year, the hard work of local planning for rec centers or improved access to land is much harder. Stable, consistent funding would mean that carefully vetted, ready-to-go projects can progress and succeed.
Lawmakers like Senator Manchin have to consider a range of challenges that have emerged in recent years, like flooding, wildfire, climate change and the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure. The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides ways to help improve safety and address challenges in each of these areas.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of investing in the quality of our land and water. Whether it’s access to public land, which helps fuel West Virginia’s $9 billion outdoor recreation economy, or reducing the risk of catastrophic flooding, we need Congress to provide full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
With his bipartisan perspective and love of the great outdoors, Senator Manchin can provide the leadership to make that a reality.