Brenda Barrett

Wednesday November 20, 2019 01:14 PM

Guest opinion: Congress must keep promise on conservation fund
Pennsylvania counts on program that protects landscapes, cultural heritage sites.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, is our nation’s preeminent conservation program protecting our irreplaceable landscapes and cultural heritage sites.

I should know; I have served the National Park Service and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for more than three decades in the fields of conservation and historic preservation, and I have seen firsthand how LWCF protects our country’s most treasured places.

In Pennsylvania, it has invested approximately $325 million in our local communities since its inception in 1965. It has helped protect national parks such as Gettysburg and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and it ensures recreational access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.

In Berks County, LWCF supported the Amity Community Park and the Schuylkill River Greenway. It has also supported projects at Mount Pisgah State Park, Ricketts Glen State Park and Delaware State Forest, all of which play an important role in growing Pennsylvania’s $29.1 billion annual outdoor recreation economy.

The benefits of LWCF extend beyond Pennsylvania’s borders to our entire country. At no cost to taxpayers (it is funded by a small portion of offshore drilling royalties paid by the oil and gas industry), it has helped to conserve national parks and to build trails and ballfields in local communities.

Although the existence of LWCF was permanently reauthorized in March, there is no assurance, let alone a guarantee, of future funding for this program. The Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee announced a proposed funding level of $465 million for Fiscal Year 2020, which is below the $524 million level approved by the House of Representatives.

The bottom line is that both proposals are dramatically less than the $900 million annual funding level originally stipulated by Congress and would leave a growing backlog of important conservation and recreation needs unmet.

Full, dedicated funding would take LWCF out of the appropriations wrangling once and for all and would end the pattern of chronic underfunding whereby more than 50% of the congressionally mandated $900 million has been, and continues to be, diverted to other uses.

If we as Pennsylvanians, and as Americans, take care of our outdoor places, they will take care of us. Anyone who has spent a day relaxing, hiking, or climbing at the Birdsboro Waters in Berks County or camping with family and friends at French Creek State Park knows this truth.

If LWCF is not fully funded in the next fiscal year, Pennsylvania’s conservation and outdoor recreation needs may not be fully taken care of and projects could be put on hold or lost forever. LWCF is the best outdoor ally we’ve ever had to help keep Pennsylvanians and all Americans healthy, happy, and connected to the great outdoors.

U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan has been a strong supporter of LWCF, and I urge her to continue her advocacy and lead the charge to fully fund it.

Please join us by writing and calling on your congressional representatives to support full and mandatory funding for LWCF. Tell them that our public lands and waters are investments in our common well-being, and in the health and happiness of future generations. Tell them Congress must fully fund LWCF — that was their promise to us, we should hold them to it, and they should honor it.

Brenda Barrett has served as coordinator of the National Heritage Areas program for the National Park Service and as Director of Recreation and Conservation at the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. She is editor of the Living Landscape Observer and a member of the Executive Council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. Brenda resides in Pennsylvania.