Jim DiPeso, 3/26/2012 [Archive]

Something Uncommon - A Government Program that Works

Something Uncommon — A Government Program that Works

By Jim DiPeso

As the days start getting warmer and longer, are you thinking about outings to that favorite local park, trail, or ball field? You might want to thank the government.

Since Congress established it in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, has financed development and improvement of local recreation facilities in all 50 states. LWCF has also paid for land acquisitions that have benefited such American treasures as Grand Canyon National Park and the Appalachian Trail.

Not a cent of taxes goes into LWCF. The fund's revenues come from royalties paid by energy companies for the privilege of producing offshore oil and gas that we Americans own in common. Every year, $900 million in royalties are paid into the fund for financing conservation and recreation projects.

Unfortunately, Congress hasn't kept its promise. Lawmakers have rarely spent all or even a significant portion of the deposited funds for their intended purposes.

Congress has an opportunity to make amends. In the bipartisan transportation bill the Senate passed March 14, senators included a provision stumping up $700 million in LWCF funds for open space acquisition and recreation. When the House gets around to taking up the Senate's bill, it ought to keep the Senate's LWCF language.

As our country's population grows, the need for open space conservation and outdoor recreation will grow also. In spite of Congress shortchanging the fund, LWCF-financed projects have benefited local economies and improved the quality of life in hundreds of communities from Maine to California, from Alaska to Florida.

LWCF is a two-part program. The federal side is used for buying, on a willing-seller basis, private "in-holdings" inside national parks and wildlife refuges. The money also can be used to buy adjacent lands with high conservation value that can enhance parks and refuges, improve access, and streamline management.

The state side provides matching grants for local recreation projects that meet local priorities, including state parks, green belts, hiking and riding trails, and neighborhood playgrounds. Since 1965, $3.7 billion in LWCF grants have been matched, dollar for dollar, to produce a total of $7.4 billion to fund more than 40,000 local recreation projects.

The grants have benefited such popular state parks as Liberty in New Jersey, the Willamette River Greenway in Oregon, and Illinois Beach State Park north of Chicago.

In addition to conservation and recreation benefits, LWCF-funded projects strengthen local economies. In northeastern Ohio, for example, LWCF financed $7.8 million in land acquisitions for Cuyahoga Valley National Park between 1998 and 2009. During that period, the park attracted more than 26 million visitors who spent half a billion dollars.

Outdoor recreation is big business nationwide. The 40 million people who visit our 556 national wildlife refuges each year, for example, generate more than $1.7 billion in sales for nearby communities.

Then, there are the intangibles. Protecting open space preserves our natural heritage of wildlife habitat, wetlands, and forests, the wild places that define America. LWCF has strengthened protection of those irreplaceable places that tell America's story, such as Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields.

LWCF is one of those uncommon government programs that works. It would work even better if Congress kept its promise and used the fund's money entirely for its dedicated purposes of financing conservation and recreation projects that benefit all Americans.


©Copyright 2012 Jim DiPeso, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jim DiPeso is vice president for policy and communications at Republicans for Environmental Protection. Jim can be reached at jdipeso@rep.org.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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