Fund that Helps Protect Iconic WV Sites is in Question
By Dan Heyman, WV Public News Service
June 29, 2018
CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Congress has three months to renew what’s described as a vital – but largely invisible – program for conserving special places in West Virginia and across the country.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund has meant $184 million for Spruce Knob, Seneca Rocks, the Canaan Valley and other projects. But the Trump administration has proposed cutting it by 90 percent.
Brent Bailey, executive director of the West Virginia Land Trust, explained the LWCF gets funding from offshore drilling royalties, and uses the money to make grants for everything from wilderness access, to pools in city parks.
“If it’s a place where hunters and fishermen go, if it’s a place where people camp, hike, backpack, climb, mountain bike, raft, kayak, canoe, it is probably due to this federal program that’s been sort of invisible,” Bailey said.
The program has traditionally had strong, bipartisan support in Congress. Bailey said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., and Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-3rd Dist., recently used the fund to protect about 700 acres that rafters see in the Gauley River Recreation Area.
The Wilderness Society has called the LWCF “America’s most important public lands program.” A budget plan failed in the Senate this month, in part because it would have cut the fund by $16 million.
Sen. Manchin expressed frustration that “a popular and successful program for the last 50 years” hasn’t been renewed, and said it’s “long past time” to reauthorize it.
According to Bailey, LWCF grants are crucial to maintaining the state’s recreation economy, worth an estimated $9 billion a year.
“If you don’t have the places for people to visit and to enjoy – for hunting and for fishing, and for all other kinds of recreation – then you’re not going to have that $9 billion coming to a state that desperately needs to diversify its economy,” he added.
The deadline for Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization is Sept. 30.