Photo: Rick Bowmer

America's Most Important Parks Program Just Expired, and This Utah Congressman Will Not Be Bringing It Back

United States
by Emma Thieme Oct 1, 2015

Not even 24 hours after Pope Francis spoke to the United States Congress, calling for US Lawmakers to protect our environment that has been “devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature,” Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop — who receives more campaign funds from the oil and gas industry than any other — announced that he intends to abolish America’s Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) this week.

The LWCF is considered to be the most important conservation program in the United States. Since its inauguration in 1965, the LWCF has permanently protected nearly 5 million acres of public land, on some of which reside the very landscapes that our nation is known for, like the Grand Canyon National Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the White Mountain National Forest, and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge — along with 403 other national parks and 40,000 state and local recreation programs.

How the LWCF is funded, is very interesting. It uses no taxpayer dollars and is instead funded by energy companies that are drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). These companies are required to collectively pay $900 million in royalties to the LWCF each year — meaning the depletion of one natural resource has to fund the conservation of another, very precious one. Yet even with that system in place, the LWCF has been forced to undergo drastic declines in its resources. According to the LWCF website, “nearly every year, Congress breaks its own promise to the American people and diverts much of [LWCF] funding to uses other than conserving our most important lands and waters.”

In 2007, the LWCF had less than $100 million in funding, and the backlog of federal land needs still continues to grow. In order to protect our federal lands that are vulnerable to development — like the Florida Everglades, the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and the Civil War battlefields in Virginia — the LWCF estimates that it needs more than $30 billion in additional funding. And that doesn’t even touch on the estimated $27 billion that is needed to fund other eligible local projects.

This interactive map by the Center for Western Priorites shows the state-by-state impact that LWCF has already had, as well as the impact it could have had if it actually received the money that it was intended to.

“Opportunities to protect fish and wildlife habitat, provide public access for recreation, preserve our nation’s most notable historic and cultural sites, and protect scenic vistas are being lost every day to development,” claims the LWCF on its website. Development, for instance, like the construction of luxury homes, which happened in Denver’s Black Canyon National Park back in 2010.

It’s not only our right as human beings to enjoy the beauty of our public lands and waters, but doing so is good for our economy. According to the Trust for Public Land, “these federal lands are key to local recreation and tourism industries.” Every $1 that is invested through the LWCF returns $4 in economic value.

The LWCF program expired on Sept. 30, 2015, leaving its future in the hands of the United States Congress, the very institution that created it 50 years ago. Rep. Bishop, who serves as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a press release that he would kill all attempts to save the LWCF unless significant changes were made to its structure. Bishop’s press release was brief and it’s not clear exactly what he would like to see the LWCF do better. In July 2014 he wrote that he’d like the LWCF to “help local governments” and a portion of LWCF funds should be re-invested to pay for “the education of future American energy industry workers.” According to his recent press release though, Bishop vaguely intends to “challenge” the “status quo.” The “status quo” of course being the protection of America’s precious lands and waters.

Do you have a memory from a United States National Park? Why not share it on Rep. Bishop’s answering machine at 1-202-225-0453 or post it on his Facebook page here.

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