Secretary Zinke, stand up once again for land, water conservation fund

Secretary Zinke, stand up once again for land, water conservation fund
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In November 2015, I stood at the Antietam National Battlefield. I was there calling for the renewal of an important historic preservation program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Land and Water Conservation Fund — or LWCF for short — was running out of time, and as someone who worked on the LWCF while with the National Park Service, I was willing to stand before reporters and cameras and explain the value of this over 50 year old program.

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Established in 1964 through a bipartisan act of Congress, LWCF has been used to protect some of our most iconic landscapes, from the Grand Canyon to the Appalachian Trail. The LWCF works by reinvesting a small portion of the revenues derived from offshore oil drilling back into critical national needs for conservation, recreation, and preservation of historic sites like Antietam. It also enables state and local governments to develop recreational opportunities that serve millions of Americans. Despite the fact that the LWCF has supported more than 42,000 projects across the country, it has only been funded at its full, $900 million authorized amount once in its history.

Thankfully, one month after I stood at Antietam Battlefield, LWCF was reauthorized. But it was a temporary bandage — the LWCF was extended for only three years. A Congressman from Montana was the sole Republican to vote in favor of extending this program. His name was Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeBig-game hunters infuriated by Trump elephant trophy debacle Interior moves ahead with opening wildlife refuge next to contaminated nuclear site House panel approves bill to boost park funding MORE.

With LWCF set to expire again in September without Congressional action, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke can play another pivotal role in the battle to renew LWCF. But his leadership is lacking and his strategy unclear. So far, his tactics have been to avoid acknowledging that he once called for permanent reauthorization of LWCF.

Secretary Zinke has the opportunity to recommit to the mission of renewing LWCF when he addresses the House Interior Appropriations Committee this week. I recognize that when he speaks to Congress, he will unfortunately defend the infinitesimal amount identified for LWCF in President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019. But I will hold out hope that Secretary Zinke will call on Congress to reauthorize the program this year.

While I was assistant director for Recreation and Conservation at the National Park Service, I was fortunate to be able to provide LWCF assistance to states and local governments. Years later, I experienced the impressive results of these “state side” grants first hand when I was executive director of the Maryland Recreation and Parks Association. Over the last five decades, Maryland has received approximately $222 million in LWCF, a figure which includes state grants as well as awards through the American Battlefield Protection Program.

It was at Antietam last year that the secretary announced that President Trump’s first quarter salary be used for maintenance projects at this National Battlefield. It is honorable and understandable that Secretary Zinke, a Navy SEAL, celebrates the preservation of America’s historic military sites.

Before Ryan Zinke became Secretary, he helped develop the “Great Northern Veterans Peace Park” in his hometown of Whitefish to help secure public outdoor recreation space for Montanans. I understand the drive and value of individuals stepping up and creating more outdoor recreation opportunities. But we need national level investment. We need the LWCF, which is the single most important program America has for supporting public outdoor recreation opportunities.

Secretary Zinke, you supported it once, you can support it again. Please work with Congress to ensure this vital program is fully funded and reauthorized before it expires on September 30th. Then we can stand together at Antietam to celebrate the renewal of LWCF, in addition to paying homage to our nation’s fallen.

Tom Ross served as the assistant director for Recreation and Conservation for the National Park Service from 1997-2006. From 2006 to 2011, he served as executive director for the Maryland Recreation and Parks Association. Ross is a member of the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, a membership organization comprised of over 1,500 current and former National Park Service employees.