Inclusion of conservation act in AGO report deserves support

LWCF, the principal source of federal dollars for expanding America’s parks, wildlife refuges, and other heritage lands, has done more to protect open space and develop outdoor recreation opportunities than any other federal program in American history. 

Since its launch in 1964, the program has enjoyed wide bipartisan support through 10 administrations. LWCF has protected more than 7.6 million acres of land and supported more than 41,000 parks, ballfields, and other recreation projects that meet state and local priorities.

LWCF was brilliantly conceived during the Eisenhower administration to balance use of our natural resources with investments in conservation and stewardship. Funding for LWCF comes from royalties paid by offshore oil and gas producers in federal waters.  

Open space and recreation projects pay lasting dividends in quality of life, good health, and local economic activity. Much more than a frill, protected open space is a proven economic driver, stimulating tourism and outdoor recreation that in turn contributes hundreds of billions of dollars annually to local and regional economies. 

Despite its popularity, bipartisan support, and proven effectiveness, however, the LWCF account has continually been raided, a chronic breakdown in fiscal responsibility. 

Over the past decade, Congress has appropriated only a small fraction of the fund’s revenue for its intended purposes, diverting the rest for other federal spending. LWCF has been fully appropriated only once in its history. Conservation has been shortchanged a total of $17 billion since the fund’s inception.

Similarly, the Antiquities Act, signed by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, has a proven track record of protecting America’s natural and cultural heritage. 

The Antiquities Act, one of our country’s most effective conservation laws, has been used by 14 presidents from both parties to protect scenic wonders and historic sites, many of which have subsequently been designated as national parks by Congress. 

Used more than 100 times since its passage, the Antiquities Act has safeguarded many of America’s most beloved, iconic sites, including the Grand Canyon, Devil’s Tower, and the Statue of Liberty.  The AGO Report outlines a collaborative process by which the public can identify and recommend potential sites on existing federal land for national monument status.

Most recently, President George W. Bush in 2009 used the Antiquities Act to designate three national monuments in the Pacific - Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments. These preserves are an extraordinary legacy, totaling nearly 125 million acres, that protect some of the world's most extraordinary coral reefs, habitat for fisheries, marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds, and unique, compelling geological formations for future generations to enjoy. 

The ongoing creation of national monuments and full, permanent finding for LWCF are critical to protecting America’s most cherished outdoor land and water spaces.   Both provisions have delivered tangible, measurable benefits to Americans in all 50 states, for generations.  

Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps best remembered as the president who made protecting the great outdoors an ongoing national priority, said over 100 years ago, "The conservation of our resources is the fundamental question before this nation." And Americans have followed his lead ever since. 

Inclusion of these two powerful and proven federal conservation tools in a 21st-century strategy for America’s Great Outdoors deserves high praise and our solid support.  These tools will once again help us build on Roosevelt’s legacy and hand it off to future generations of Americans.

Jim DiPeso is the Vice President for Policy and Communications at Republicans for Environmental Protection (www.rep.org), an organization dedicated to restoring natural resource conservation and sound environmental protection as fundamental elements of the Republican Party's vision for America.