_Jodi Stemler is a consultant working with hunting and fishing organizations on conservation issues. She has a degree in natural resource management from Rutgers University and lives outside of Denver where she and her family regularly hunt, fish and hike on land funded by the Land & Water Conservation Fund.
It is the season of thanks in this great country. A uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving originally celebrated the bounty of the season and the gifts provided by the fields, forests and waters. These days, fewer Americans are closely connected with the wealth of the traditional harvest. But those of us who still spend the fall hunting and fishing understand the notion of giving thanks for our nation’s bountiful fish and game.
More and more outdoorsmen, however, are faced with a challenging situation: where to go in pursuit of outdoor adventure? With land lost to subdivisions and strip malls every day, America’s network of federal, state and local public lands – the places that offer habitat to fish and wildlife and opportunities for sportsmen to hunt and fish – are the one thing for which we should be the most thankful. And this year, expanding access to places for us to hunt and fish is something that we can take action to support.
After Thanksgiving, Congress will continue their lame duck session and could vote on a bill that would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that has helped to safeguard many of the public lands that we cherish. Signed into law in 1964, the LWCF (Land & Water Conservation Fund) reinvests a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas development toward land conservation and outdoor recreation, a logical trade-off for the use of a non-renewable natural resource to promote the conservation of our precious land resources. But it is a promise that has been chronically unfulfilled.
The LWCF was supposed to receive $900 million each year – a drop in the bucket of offshore revenues that annually have averaged around $6 billion – but has been regularly shortchanged by Congress. Full funding has been appropriated only once in the LWCF’s 46-year history and recently declined to a low of $138 million in 2007.
We have an opportunity to finally ensure that this important program gets its due. On July 30, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that included full, dedicated funding for the LWCF as well as a provision to improve sportsmen’s access by allocating some of the funds to acquire access to landlocked public lands. But the Senate has yet to act, and time is running out. If Congress fails to pass a bill dedicating funds from the LWCF before the lame duck session adjourns, we will have missed this unprecedented opportunity.
Numbers of hunters and anglers in America are declining, with access to quality lands and waters cited as a key factor in their decisions to abandon their sporting traditions. The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides places where we can hunt and fish. One of the most ambitious conservation funding programs in history, we can only imagine how successful it would be with full and dedicated funding.
Securing funding for sportsmen’s access and the LWCF is a top priority for the nation’s leading sportsmen’s groups as this session of Congress winds down. Hunters and anglers have led the charge for conservation for many years, and now we have an opportunity to pitch in again.