For nearly five decades, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has taken money generated by oil and gas drilling leases and used it to protect valuable open space for the public benefit.

The funding must be re-appropriated regularly, however, leaving it vulnerable to attacks of political ideology, just as it was recently when its reauthorization was put in doubt in part because of a debate over federal land use. The $900 million a year the fund takes in makes it a target, too, such as when President Trump proposed using the money to help fix up national parks instead of for its statutory purpose of conserving land.

It’s time to stop this madness. Congress should permanently reauthorize and fund the program, so that it can do what it’s supposed to do — and what it has done so well for 50 years.

Since its creation in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has purchased thousands of acres of federal land and supported more than 41,000 state and local park projects. It has conserved parks, forests and historic sites, rivers and drinking water supplies, animal habitat, farms and ranches.

The fund has contributed about $190 million to Maine. Acadia National Park has benefited from it, as have the Moosehorn, Sunkhaze Meadows and Rachel Carson national wildlife refuges, as well as the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

Included in that total for Maine is $80 million from the fund’s Forest Legacy program, which helped preserve Katahdin Forest and Grafton Notch, among other areas. Recently, $5.5 million from Forest Legacy was used to complete the Cold Stream Forest project, key to Somerset County’s hunting and fishing economy.

What’s more, the fund has helped out 650 community-based projects —  saving public parks, ballfields and other recreational sites up and down the state.

Three years ago, after a debate over its future, cooler heads prevailed and the Land and Water Conservation Fund was reauthorized. That reauthorization ran out Sept. 30, and now the fund is stuck again in political limbo.

There is some good news. After President Trump’s budget proposal gutted the program, legislation is advancing that would permanently reauthorize it. A House committee in June passed in bipartisan fashion a bill that would dedicate to the fund the $900 million in royalties it is due each year. A similar Senate bill passed committee earlier this month. (A Senate committee also passed the Restore Our Parks Act, which would help address the national park maintenance backlog, and which is desperately needed.)

Outdoor recreation makes up 4.8% of Maine’s economy, the third-highest portion among states. Thus, every dollar that Maine spends supporting outdoor recreation comes back to the state many times over.

And through the last 50 years, many of those dollars have come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For the health of Maine’s economy — and for the sake of open space everywhere — Congress should put the fund on sure footing once and for all.

 


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