Conservation Funding Cut from Transportation Bill
MOSSYROCK, Wash. - The Land and Water Conservation Fund is in limbo. The federal program was cut from the massive $120 billion surface transportation funding bill that Congress passed late last week. The Fund uses fees from oil and gas exploration - not taxpayer revenue - to make grants for recreation and conservation projects across the country. Twelve of them are pending in Washington.
In Mossyrock, the Fund has matched local money to purchase 32 acres and develop the town's only park. However, it isn't finished, so park supporter Rebecca Sutherland went to Capitol Hill to ask her lawmakers to save the Fund on behalf of projects she says may be small - but are still important.
"We don't have any other community parks. Kids were hanging out in the backside of the local tavern, sitting on the donation box outside the church. As a former police officer, I know that it's just a matter of time before they start getting in trouble. So, that's why I started this project in 2009."
Wayne Marion, senior regional director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, says the Fund helps buy property to create trailheads, build boat ramps and gain hunting and fishing access to public land surrounded by private acreage. But he says it's tough to plan the projects, because Congress usually raids the Fund for other purposes.
"Because it's a large pool of money, about $900 million each year, other groups start to look at that with envy. And when other monies go away, why, then this becomes a target to take some of the money and spend it elsewhere."
Americans are losing federal land to development at the rate of about 3 million acres a year, says Marion. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has preserved 7 million acres since it was created in the 1960s.
Sutherland thinks the Fund is a fair trade-off for allowing industries to extract the country's natural resources for profit.
"For me, it being in the transportation bill makes perfect sense. We're allowing the cars and the roads and drilling, and all of that to take place - so, as an exchange, help us build some green spaces and preserve them for our communities, for future years."
Republican lawmakers who pushed to cut the Fund say highway construction should be the top priority for federal dollars. The Fund's supporters are trying to keep the program alive, although the House has already recommended cutting its funding by 80 percent from last year.
A list of Washington projects awaiting funding with LWCF monies is online at http://wildliferecreation.org.