Let's not lose this opportunity to permanently fund land and water conservation

Let's not lose this opportunity to permanently fund land and water conservation
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In America our public lands are our greatest national treasure. They are the inheritance that we all share equally, no matter who we are or from where we come. They not only encompass our national forests, national wildlife refuges and wilderness areas; they also provide us with access to some of the most awe-inspiring hunting, angling and recreational opportunities in the world — majestic places where the game and fish are plentiful, where memories are made and where lifelong traditions are formed. 

But our public lands are increasingly vulnerable. In recent years we’ve seen sensitive public lands habitat opened up to irresponsible development and rollbacks of fundamental environmental laws.

The need for programs like the Land Water Conservation Fund, one of our greatest assets in conserving key areas and expanding access to our public lands, has never been greater. Right now funding for LWCF is uncertain and we are facing a critical moment to protect it.

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Congress is just weeks away from the next funding deadline and if we don’t act Congress could allocate less than half the full funding level of $900 million, proposals that would rob communities and starve our public lands of critical investments. 

Since its creation in 1964, LWCF has helped secure fish and wildlife habitat and provide much needed public access to millions of acres of lands and waters across the United States. LWCF also has supported the creation of thousands of parks, backcountry trails, playgrounds and other public spaces.

LWCF has positively impacted every congressional district in America, providing Americans of all stripes with community enhancements.

LWCF also helps drive our nation’s $887 billion annual outdoor recreation economy, which directly supports 7.6 million jobs, generates nearly $59 billion in state and local tax revenues and gives back nationally to the tune of $65.3 billion in federal taxes. 

Despite these successes and the fact that industry pays into the fund every year, LWCF funding remains uncertain in Washington, D.C.

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While members of Congress and President TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE stepped up to permanently reauthorize the program earlier this year, securing its future with passage of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, they neglected to take the important step of permanently dedicating LWCF’s authorized funding. 

The good news is that lawmakers have the opportunity to advance dedicated funding legislation, a move that would help expand access to our public lands and waters at a critical time. As CEOs of some of the largest and most active outdoors groups in the country, we, along with our millions of members, wholeheartedly support them in this effort.

Last year sportsmen and women rallied to the cause of permanently reauthorizing LWCF and successfully saw that signed into law. There is no reason we can’t see the same result with permanent funding. 

At a time of polarizing partisanship in Washington, we have seen our elected officials in Washington reach across the aisle and work together to protect LWCF. The full funding bill was voted out of committee in the Senate just last week.

This is a positive step forward, but Americans don’t have time for empty promises or “best efforts.” There is strong bipartisan support for LWCF, not only in Congress but all across the nation and now is the perfect time to get full and dedicated funding for LWCF.

As the end of the year nears and the House and Senate get together to hash out the final details of federal funding levels, we need them to step up and fully fund this vital program once and for all. 

The great sportsman and conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt once told his fellow countrymen, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”

Roosevelt fought those greedy interests in his time and essentially created the public lands network that we all enjoy today. Now it is our turn to protect America’s public lands hunting and fishing heritage for the next generation. Let’s not lose this opportunity to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

Whit Fosburgh is the president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of 60 conservation groups working together to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. Land Tawney is the president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife. Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, whose mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.