Trevor Fagerskog: Land and Water Conservation Fund invaluable | SierraSun.com

Trevor Fagerskog: Land and Water Conservation Fund invaluable

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Trevor Fagerskog

One of the things that makes America unique from almost any other country is our system of public lands.

These lands, and the trout and salmon streams that flow from and through them, are managed by the federal government for the benefit of every U.S. citizen — in effect, all Americans are co-owners of this incredible estate.

Especially in the western U.S., these public lands harbor virtually all of the best habitats for coldwater fish and game species and provide most of the fishing and hunting opportunities we enjoy.

There would be limited or no access to some of these public lands sporting opportunities if not for a federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This program flies beneath the radar for many Americans, but since 1965, the Fund has provided critical funding for public lands conservation, sporting access and outdoor recreation infrastructure across the country.

The Land and Water and Conversation Fund was based on a simple idea: use revenues from the depletion of one natural resource to better conserve other resources — our country's lands and waters. The Fund's funding derives entirely from royalties on offshore oil and gas development. No taxpayer dollars are expensed through it.

Congress passed this Fund with strong bipartisan support. According to Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), a strong proponent, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is "far and away our nation's most successful and important conservation program." However, the Fund has never been permanently authorized and new funding for the program will expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress acts to reauthorize it.

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The Land and Water Conservation Fund has a funding cap of $900 million annually, and its revenues are shared among all 50 states. It has been fully funded by Congress only twice since its inception.

To date, the Fund has made possible the completion of some 42,000 projects across the nation that conserve open space and habitat, improve and protect water quality, create new or refurbish existing urban recreational facilities, protect historic and cultural sites, and improve access for outdoor recreation through such infrastructure as boat ramps, trails, campgrounds, parking areas, swimming pools, equestrian facilities and fish cleaning stations.

In California alone, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided nearly $170 million in funding and enabled over 900 projects that improve public access and opportunity for outdoor recreation. Some local examples of its funded projects that directly benefit anglers and hunters include improved conservation of the designated Wild Trout fishery of the Rubicon River (El Dorado County) and enhanced public access to the Truckee River (Nevada County).

Of particular benefit to sportsmen and women, Law and Water Conservation Fund money is sometimes utilized to acquire private properties surrounded by public land. The purchase of such inholdings helps reduce fragmentation of habitat and often improves public access for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities. Working with local communities and willing sellers, these limited and strategic acquisitions have significantly improved conservation efforts and recreational access in many areas.

Projects funded by the Law and Water Conservation Fund have helped generate a powerful economic engine, now nearly $900 billion annually, fueled by outdoor recreation and creating the kind of communities in which Americans want to live and raise their families. The outdoor-recreation industry today accounts for 2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product — larger than the 1.4 percent from mining and fossil fuels development.

There is currently a bipartisan push in Congress to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. On Sept. 13, the House Committee on Natural Resources approved a compromise, worked out by Chairman Bishop (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Grijalva (D-Arizona), that would permanently authorize the Fund, ensure equity between funding allocated to state and federal Law and Water Conservation Fund programs, and dedicate funding for improving access for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.

For sportsmen, there is no substitute for good habitat. The Law and Water Conservation Fund has been invaluable in conserving public lands habitat and improving sporting access. We call on members of the House and Senate to follow through on the Bishop-Grijalva agreement and permanently authorize and fully fund this program prior to Sept. 30.

Trevor Fagerskog is president of Truckee River Trout Unlimited.