We can safeguard the great outdoors at no cost to taxpayers

We can safeguard the great outdoors at no cost to taxpayers
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The United States is blessed with diverse and treasured landscapes spanning all corners of our country. In order to safeguard these resources for future generations, we have developed an assortment of policy tools that are of paramount importance to both current and future generations. One tool that has played a leading role in preserving natural resources and landscapes for future generations is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). 

The LWCF, established by Congress in 1964 with strong bipartisan support, aims “to safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.” The LWCF uses no taxpayer dollars, instead relying on invested earnings from offshore oil and gas leases. Yet, despite the program’s broad bipartisan backing, its authorization is set to expire in September.

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Through various federal and state programs, the LWCF funds the conservation of recreational areas and other valuable open spaces. The fund has benefitted communities across America, financially supporting conservation in 98 percent of U.S. counties. In total, the LWCF has conserved over 5 million acres and supported more than 41,000 state and local park projects. Prominent national outdoor areas like the Grand Canyon, the Appalachian Trail and Central Park have all benefitted from LWCF.

 

In my home state of South Carolina, the LWCF has been a clear success story. Since its authorization, the LWCF has brought nearly $295 million of investments to the Palmetto State, including funding for Fort Sumter National Monument and the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. Moreover, LWCF funding has played a central role in the revitalization of downtown Greenville. In 2004, the city of Greenville relied on LWCF funds to construct Falls Park on the Reedy River at a cost of $13 million, and the project led the city to gain nearly $100 million in additional private investments within two years.   

Notably, the LWCF’s worthwhile efforts don’t cost taxpayers a dime since the program does not rely on taxpayer dollars. The majority of the LWCF’s $900 million in revenue comes from federal oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf, with additional revenue provided by the federal motorboat fuel tax and surplus property sales. Private funding and programs like the LWCF allow more federal dollars to be devoted to other causes in need of funding, like education and hunger.

Put simply, the LWCF works. The fund has helped to preserve open spaces for the enjoyment of all Americans. In the 2017 budget requests, the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture reported outdoor recreation contributes approximately $646 billion to the country’s economy annually and supports 6.1 million jobs. 

The LWCF is good for South Carolina and good for America. This time-tested, effective program has led to countless opportunities across the nation for hikers, hunters and history buffs, and everyone in between to better enjoy the outdoors. The LWCF has also spurred economic growth, at no cost to taxpayers. Congress should act quickly and permanently reauthorize the LWCF to ensure this important conservation tool is funded before time runs out.

George Thornton is a former CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation and member of the Partnership for Conservation, which advocates for permanent reauthorization Land and Water Conservation Fund.