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.
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 ZinkeOvernight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' 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 TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' 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.