At the end of this month, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is set to expire, unless reauthorized by Congress. Established in 1964 through a bipartisan act of Congress, the LWCF uses royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf to conserve important natural resources and expand public lands access. Funding comes from a maximum of $900 million in royalty payments collected annually from oil and gas companies, not from taxpayer dollars.
The LWCF enables sportsmen access to millions of acres of public lands – and has expanded access to millions more – all while strengthening quality habitat for fish and game. Colorado has received more than $230 million in LWCF funding for 974 projects. Those grants typically are matched by an equal amount of state or local funding, thus doubling the federal investment. The Ophir Valley of the Uncompahgre National Forest, Great Sand Dunes National Park, the wildlife refuge complex of the San Luis Valley ecosystem, and the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument are past beneficiaries of LWCF matching contributions in our state.
Studies have found that every dollar invested in land acquisition or improvement generated a $4 return on the investment for communities. And U.S. sportsmen comprise a powerful economic engine, annually contributing close to $90 billion to the nation’s economy and supporting 1.5 million jobs. The broader outdoor recreation and conservation economy is responsible for more than $600 billion in consumer spending every year.
Recently, LWCF funds have been used to acquire the 11,179-acre Devil’s Canyon Ranch in Wyoming, a premier hunting area with important herds of bighorn sheep, mule deer and elk; to protect the working forests around Wisconsin’s Chippewa Flowage, one of that state’s most pristine lakes and best trophy fisheries; to secure habit in the Dakota grasslands for more than 100 breeding birds, including 12 waterfowl species – a region that has been described as America’s “duck factory;” to protect the confluence of the Ohio and Tradewater Rivers in Kentucky – an action that is providing significant watershed and water quality improvement to the benefit of public hunting and fishing.
According to report from the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation, lack of public access is the number one reason why sportsmen quit hunting. A loss of federal LWCF funding for public access easements and public land acquisition will only further this problem. And as rural lands across the country continue to disappear, public access to federal lands will become increasingly important. LWCF funds play a vital role in “unlocking” millions of federal acres currently unavailable to sportsmen. LWCF is essential to make public lands public by securing recreation access, particularly where opportunities for sportsmen and others to access public lands are limited or precluded.
As explained by Backcountry Hunters & Angler’s President and CEO, Land Tawney: “LWCF is the best tool available to provide access for hunters and anglers, as well as habitat conservation to make sure sportsmen have something to chase once we get there. The program invests in the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and enhances recreational access, which means more rewarding days afield for America’s hunters and anglers.”
For additional information on how LWCF funds have benefited Coloradans, see: www.lwcfcoalition.org/co lorado.html.
– David Lien, chairman, Colorado Backcountry
Hunters & Anglers