By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
The Land Water Conservation Fund has been preserving national parks, forests, historic battlegrounds, rivers and lakes for 50 years. But, with the program’s six-year authorization having expired on September 30th, program supporters are hoping Congress can find time to address its reauthorization in the lame duck session.
Much higher profile issues such as immigration and border wall funding or the confirming of federal judges appear to be what is likely to be taken into consideration during this limited period before the new Congress assumes office. Still, supporters are impressing on Congress some of the economic benefits of the program.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 National Recreation Economy Report, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, paddling and other outdoor recreation activities contribute a total of $887 billion annually to the economy and supports 7.6 million American jobs. For Alabama specifically, the LWCF coalition says that Alabama has received approximately $153 million from the fund to go towards sites such as the Bon Secour and Cahaba National Wildlife Refuges, Little River Canyon National Preserve, and Talladega, Tuskegee and Bankhead National Forests.
The LWCF has been funded since 1965 from fees generated by offshore oil and gas development, and not through any taxpayer dollars. The program was reauthorized for another three years back in 2015 but now supporters of LWCF want to see it permanently reauthorized and fully funded as well.
The LWCF has been allotted $900 million of the offshore royalties each year, yet according to LWCF around $20 billion of these funds over the years has been diverted elsewhere. The conservation group not only wants to secure all of its funding but wants to get rid of the sunset clause as well.
Supporters of LWCF say that it is an obvious bipartisan bill that should be easy to get behind. Since the fund protects watersheds and drinking water supplies, as well as preserve national heritage sites, and national parks, the fund benefits every state and a wide range of people.
The LWCF has also helped fund grants for the Forest Legacy Program which has supported timber sector jobs and sustainable forest operations in places like Baldwin County, Mobile Tensaw Delta in Mobile, and the Cumberland Mountains Preserve in Jackson County.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the active outdoor recreation in Alabama generates $14 billion in consumer spending, 135,000 jobs which generates $3.9 billion in wages and produces $857 million annually in stat and local tax revenue.
Representatives Terri Sewell and Bradly Byrne have already signed a letter to the House appropriations committee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies about the importance of extending the LWCF.
Senator Richard Shelby also voted in support of LWCF back in 2012 when it was last up for reauthorization.