Hardly a day goes by without a new opinion poll showing Congress has sunk to a new low in national approval ratings. There are many reasons for that slump, but I can think of none better than the story of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
In 1964, Congress agreed to dedicate a small portion of royalties it received from oil and gas extraction in federal offshore waters to protect fish and wildlife habitat on land. As the LWCF Coalition succinctly summarizes, “It was a simple idea: use revenues from the depletion of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – to support the conservation of another precious resource – our land and water.”
Congress put a $900 million annual cap on the fund, and made sure it would be dispersed to state as well as federal agencies for projects involved in fish and wildlife habitat conservation, which ultimate benefit all outdoors recreation.
The legislation was held up as a shining example of a national government understanding its responsibility to the environment, especially for future generations.
But in the 50 years since then, following Congresses have fully funded the LWCF only twice. The rest of the time they took money out of the fund for other purposes.
Put another way: They have been stealing from fish, wildlife, and sportsmen for 48 of the last 50 years.
Breaking promises is bad government at its worst. It not only cheats the intended programs, but it destroys trust in the institution going forward. And that means future agreements like this one will be harder to put into law.
Robbing the LWCF has had as an increasingly negative impact on fish and wildlife management. Because it is supposed to be practically a guaranteed source of funding, many agencies make plans for the money they are supposed to receive. Today federal agencies report a $30 billion backlog in projects, including many needed to protect already vulnerable habitats. State agencies say they are holding a $27 billion backlog. And when it comes to saving and protecting fish and wildlife habitat, delay often means permanent loss.
Earlier this week, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance, and the National Wildlife Federation met with federal officials and supportive members of congress to outline some of the good programs being threatened by yet another congress refusing to fully fund the LWFC. As you read that list below, understand the people representing you in Washington may be voting to not fund these and many other projects that were promised to you 50 years ago. Contact your reps to find out where they stand. You can find their contact information at contactingthecongress.org
Tenderfoot Creek, Montana
Several sportsmen’s organizations, local organizations and the U.S. Forest Service are partnering to protect lands in the Tenderfoot Creek drainage, which flows into the nationally recognized Smith River, a popular floating and fishing stream, within the heart of the historic Lewis & Clark National Forest. Funding from the LWCF is helping to conserve habitat for cutthroat trout, elk, deer, moose, and other species; and provide public access to the Smith River.
Gunnison Gorge Conservation and Wilderness Area, Colorado
Offers gold medal fishing waters for rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout. In addition, the Gunnison Gorge offers one-of-a-kind backcountry hunting for chukar, mule deer, big horn sheep, elk, mountain lion and coyote.
Dakota Grassland Conservation Area, North Dakota and South Dakota
Often referred to as America’s “Duck Factory,” the Prairie Pothole Region is responsible for approximately half of the waterfowl production in the United States. But this habitat is threatened as wetlands are drained and grasslands are plowed under. In response to these challenges, LWCF funding has enabled the creation of the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area, which boasts 1.7 million acres of grassland habitat as well as 240,000 acres of wetlands. Not only has this ensured access to hunters, but the establishment of conservation easements on private land also has kept these agricultural lands working.
Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic River, Idaho
Offering prime elk and deer hunting and world-class steelhead fishing, the Middle Fork Clearwater was one of the first areas to be designated as “Wild & Scenic” in 1968.
Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
There are over 24,000 acres of fresh and brackish marshes and coastal hardwood forests, all within the city limits of New Orleans, making it the nation’s largest urban National Wildlife Refuge. The freshwater lagoons, bayous, and ponds serve as production areas for largemouth bass, crappies, bluegills and catfish. Large redfish can also be found on the edge of the refuge. The proximity to New Orleans provides ample opportunities to educate local school children, and in 2011 the refuge instituted a youth waterfowl season, the first hunting season since the refuge was established. Bass fishing is outstanding, and Bayou Sauvage was a favorite for professional anglers in the BASS Master Classic, hosted in New Orleans in 2011. Bayou Sauvage is a prime example of how LWCF funds can be used not only for habitat conservation and education, but also for hunting and fishing opportunities. Like many wetland areas in coastal Louisiana, Bayou Sauvage also provides much-needed storm surge protection for the city.
Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada
This refuge provides one of the largest remaining intact blocks of desert bighorn sheep habitat, offering those hunters lucky enough to draw a tag with truly wild hunting opportunities. Mule deer are also common. Over 1.4 million acres within the refuge have been found suitable for wilderness designation.
Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico
The jewel of New Mexico public lands – and the darling of New Mexico sportsmen – is the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve. The preserve offers some of the finest elk and turkey hunting in the state. San Antonio Creek and the East Fork of the Jemez River run through the heart of the Preserve and provide outstanding angling opportunities, as well as a critical supply of water to downstream agricultural communities and municipalities. Purchased with $101 million of LWCF funds in 2000, Valles Caldera is known as the “Yellowstone of New Mexico.” The area was created by the collapse of a super-volcano millions of years ago and today consists of grassy meadows, thick forest, and crystal streams. The preserve also contains numerous cultural sites, some dating back thousands of years, which are revered by the neighboring Native American pueblos. Valles Caldera is an irreplaceable New Mexico heirloom, and it is open to the public today thanks to LWCF.
Owyhee National Wild and Scenic River, Oregon
Owyhee offers unique fishing opportunities for native red band trout and hunting for sage grouse and California big horn sheep. The Ohwyhee lies within one of most remote areas in the United States.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah
The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is a hotspot for both game and non-game migratory birds, offering some of the best waterfowl hunting in the West for species such as snow geese, cinnamon teal and speckled belly geese.
Skagit Wild and Scenic River System, Washington
The Skagit offers fishing for chinook, pink, coho and sockeye salmon, as well as steelhead. The lower portions of the river offer world-class waterfowl hunting on what is the largest river within the Puget Sound watershed.