Op-ed: Bring back millions for conservation

Every day, Americans are spending time in recreational areas made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This fund is well-loved and for good reason: It enables parks, outdoor spaces and national sites to remain accessible, protected and celebrated by all Americans. At this point, the fund has unfortunately expired, but my Senate colleagues and I would like to bring the LWCF, and all the conservation projects currently in limbo, back to life.

Rather than using taxpayer money, this fund is supposed to be granted $900 million a year, a small portion of the billions in annual oil and gas royalties gained from exploration on federally owned land and water sites. Historically, LWCF has received less than half the promised $900 million. Still, LWCF continues to make a big impact across the country.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of America’s great conservation success stories and for the last 50 years, it has delivered on its promise to conserve and enhance our national landscape. This fund has supported 41,000 projects and in North Carolina alone it has protected more than 900 sites including tourist attractions like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest and the Great Dismal Swamp.

In North Carolina, outdoor recreation contributes $7.5 billion to the state’s economy and supports 95,000 jobs. While grand vistas are certainly noteworthy, many neighborhood parks and baseball diamonds have been made possible via LWCF grants. Some $216 million in LWCF funds has allowed North Carolina to provide these ballfields as well as protecting working forests and buffering the Appalachian Trail. These grants are invaluable in making local and state conservation efforts a reality.

President Teddy Roosevelt once noted, “It is an incalculable added pleasure to anyone’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” His words ring truer now than ever before. This conservation fund allows us to enjoy not just magnificent national monuments, but also the nature in our own neighborhoods because it makes these areas more accessible than they would be otherwise. We owe Americans the chance to breathe life back into this vital program.

This op-ed was published in the Charlotte Observer.