The Land and Water Conservation Fund is our nation’s most important program to conserve irreplaceable landscapes and cultural heritage sites. The fund has received bipartisan support throughout 10 administrations, protected more than 7.6 million acres of land, and supported more than 41,000 parks, ballfields and other recreation projects that meet state and local priorities. In Maine, LWCF has helped to protect some of our most treasured places, such as Acadia National Park and Preserve and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
Though the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act was signed into law in March, permanently reauthorizing LWCF, no assurance for future dedicated funding was provided. More recently, the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee announced a proposed funding level of $465 million for fiscal year 2020, which is below the $524 million level approved by the House. Both figures, however, are dramatically under the $900 million annual funding level originally stipulated by Congress and would leave a growing backlog of important conservation and recreation needs unmet.
LWCF has been impaired by chronic underfunding. For most of its existence, more than 50% of the $900 million it should receive has been diverted to other uses. And what makes any congressional indecisiveness particularly discordant is that the benefits provided by LWCF come at no cost to taxpayers. LWCF money is taken only from a very small portion of the royalties from offshore drilling paid by oil and gas companies.
I enjoyed a long career with the National Park Service, helping to protect our national’s most treasured places. I have seen the good LWCF has done in the National Park System. And, as a Maine resident, I have seen all it has done for our state. Since its inception in 1965, LWCF has invested approximately $190 million in Maine’s outdoors, protecting Maine’s natural and cultural resources and helping to ensure recreational access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. This includes nearly $80 million in Forest Legacy Program grants to help protect Maine’s working forests; and over $40 million in state assistance grants to support hundreds of projects across Maine’s state and local parks. Beneficiaries of LWCF grants include the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Durham River Park and Lewiston’s Sunnyside Park — all contributing to Maine’s substantial $8.2 billion annual outdoor recreation economy.
Maine’s four congressional representatives are particularly important to achieving full and mandatory funding for LWCF. I am thankful for Rep. Jared Golden’s support of LWCF and encourage him, and our other representatives, to continue to fight for full and dedicated funding for LWCF.
The logic for supporting LWCF is clear: Take care of our outdoor spaces and they will take care of us. Any Mainer who has floated down the Allagash Wilderness Waterway or disappeared into the landscapes of Acadia knows this truth. If LWCF is not fully funded in FY 2020, Maine’s conservation and outdoor recreation needs may not be fully met. And we need LWCF to help keep Down-Easters and all Americans healthy, happy and connected to the great outdoors.
Mike Murray spent 34 years with the National Park Service, retiring as the superintendent of the Outer Banks Group. He serves on the executive council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and resides with his family in Brunswick.