Land, Water Conservation Fund in trouble

A struggle is shaping up in Washington over a little-known
federal program that significantly improves outdoor recreational
opportunities in Ohio and elsewhere in the country.

A handful of Congressional Republicans, mostly from western states,
are proposing drastic cuts to the 46-year-old Land & Water
Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Obama Administration is opposing the
cuts, saying they would bring conservation funding in the U.S. “as
close to zero as it has been in modern times.”

We’re not talking tax dollars here. Monies channeled into the fund
come from off-shore oil and gas drilling permits. With few
exceptions, the fund has fallen short of the $900 million it was
expected to generate annually when Congress created it in
1965.

Tim Ahern of the Trust for Public Land said part of the problem
stems from the fact that few people outside of Washington have ever
heard of the program.

The 2011 federal budget saw only $300.5 million allocated for LWCF.
Pending legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives will cut
that amount to less than $95 million.

About half of the fund’s yearly allocation goes to acquire federal
land, with the remaining dollars doled out to the states to improve
local recreation and protect woodlands.

Good Ohio examples of the fund’s positive impacts are land
acquisitions for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Vinton
Furnace State Forest.

Over the last 45 years, Ohio has received more than $308 million in
LWCF money. Aside from the Cuyahoga Valley and Vinton Furnace
efforts, that money provided grants to local communities for
construction of walking trails, park playgrounds, swimming pools
and the preservation of historic sites.

In 2010, nearly $600,000 in LWCF money went to 11 local outdoor
projects statewide. It helped put a new liner in Newark’s Hollander
Pool, extend the Am-Town Park Trail in Lorain County and add 15
acres to Derwent Park in Guernsey County – to name a few. That may
be a mere $12,500 here and $60,000 there. But to these communities,
they are important dollars that improve quality of life and promote
business.

The LWCF is unpopular with farmers, ranchers and local officials in
the West where the federal government used it to buy up millions of
wilderness acres for protection. That protection limits open
grazing rights and takes acreage out of the local tax base.

A Utah representative, chairman of the Natural Resources
Subcommittee, was recently quoted as saying the federal government
already owns too much land.

But that’s not the case in Ohio where public recreational lands are
much more limited. Ohio needs every penny it can get, including
every federal penny, for conservation and improved outdoor
recreation.

That’s a message the state’s Congressional representatives need to
hear.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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