Before Thanksgiving we had a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee about the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). When talking with my colleagues from all over the country about LWCF, I ask them to imagine America without iconic national parks like Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Acadia, and Great Smoky Mountains national parks. All of those parks were created by the LWCF.
Since Americans first set eyes on the natural beauty of our country, it has been one of our shared values that those lands must be cherished and that recreational and sporting access should be maintained.
Republican President Teddy Roosevelt was so inspired by the beauty of our nation that he preserved more than 230 million acres of public lands, much of which would become part of our National Forest and National Parks systems. While I received a lot of support for reauthorizing LWCF from Democrats, only a few from my own party are fighting alongside me for the future of the program. It’s time for Republicans to return to our conservationist roots.
In 1965, a bipartisan majority of Congress established the LWCF to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities. Here in Montana, LWCF is directly responsible for the Crown of the Continent, Tenderfoot Creek, Rocky Mountain Front, Montana Legacy Project, and countless state parks, fishing access points, and municipal pools. In every county in all 50 states, LWCF supports 41,000 local and state parks, hiking trails, hunting and fishing access, community pools, ball parks and playgrounds.
The LWCF is fiscally responsible. It is budget neutral, meaning it doesn’t add to the deficit. It’s not free money; states and localities are required to match the federal grants dollar-for-dollar for most funds. And, rather than being funded through taxpayer dollars, it’s funded in perpetuity through royalties paid by energy companies for offshore oil and gas exploration.
There’s also an incredible economic argument to be made. LWCF contributes $646 billion annually to the national economy, supports 6.1 million jobs, and generates nearly $40 billion in federal tax revenue. The 725 million annual visits to America’s state park system — a recipient of LWCF State Assistance funding — contribute $20 billion to local and state economies.
Montana’s multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry supports 64,000 jobs in the state, is responsible for more than $5.8 billion in consumer spending, and contributes $1.5 billion in wages and salaries. In total, the industry contributes more than $400 million in local and state tax revenues. Without LWCF helping fund parks, hunting and fishing access, and hiking trails, much of Montana’s outdoor economy would be hit. That’s why organizations like Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Business for Montana’s Outdoors, the Nature Conservancy, Prickly Pear Land Trust, Montana Wildlife Federation, Plum Creek, and F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company support it.
Nothing is perfect and I respect the efforts of those who seek to make the program better. While I support the clean reauthorization of LWCF, I was not sent to Washington to be intransigent. If Congress cannot come to an agreement, then we should work together towards a solution. There are a host of possibilities that I believe would find bipartisan support. We could look at avenues to broaden the revenue stream so the burden does not fall solely on offshore drilling. The delivery of these funds could also be examined to reduce bureaucracy. But certainly we can reform the program without gutting it as the current proposal in the House does – which is why I don’t support it.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.” Whether you’re a kid growing up in Baltimore or Bozeman, LWCF makes this country a good place for all. Congress has made a lot of promises to future generations – too many to count – let’s not make the LWCF another broken promise.
National Resources and Parks Association (.org)
LWCF Coalition (.org)
Annual Report - http://www.lwcfcoalition.org/files/
National Parks Service
Teddy Roosevelt and Conservation - http://www.nps.gov/thro/learn/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-and-conservation.htm
Outdoor Industry Association (.org)
State by state impact - https://outdoorindustry.org/images/ore_reports/MT-montana -outdoorrecreationeconomy-oia.pdf
U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke
Member of House Natural Resources Committee)