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Bipartisan Protection for Public Lands

Bipartisan Protection for Public Lands
Catherine Creek Labyrinth. (photographer: Debbie Asakawa)
By Dan Bell
Land Trust Director
June 10, 2019

With summer coming, like thousands of other folks, I look forward to enjoying public lands in the Gorge – Cape Horn, Catherine Creek, and the Sandy River Delta, to name a few. As a Gorge resident, I am also sure to find myself walking along the Hood River waterfront or relaxing at Toll Bridge Park in the Hood River Valley.

Lately I have been thinking about something that all of these places have in common: they all were made possible by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF has had a tremendous impact on the Gorge

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of America’s most important conservation programs, responsible for protecting parks, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas at the federal, state, and local levels. When you live in the Columbia Gorge, you realize the impact of the fund is everywhere, and impressively, it works without using taxpayer dollars. Instead, a small portion of revenues generated by offshore oil and gas development supports the program, and a portion of those funds have been put to good use in the Gorge.

Over the past decade, the fund has contributed more than $2 million to help the U.S. Forest Service purchase critical lands from willing sellers, including the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust. Numerous grants have been made to state and local governments to improve boat marinas, tennis courts, public restrooms, and more.

Despite its success, for five decades the Land and Water Conservation Fund faced a persistent challenge. Congressional legislation authorizing the program always included a sunset provision, adding uncertainty to congressional support for the fund. Broad national coalitions had to mobilize regularly through the years to push for reauthorization. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the efforts of Friends staff and members have been a key part of those fights.

Permanent LWCF funding finally realized

Finally, this past March, Congress permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund as part of a sweeping, bipartisan, public lands package. This success culminated a years-long effort by congressional champions on both sides of the aisle and stakeholders across the country. For the first time in its history, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is now a permanent program.

This long-awaited funding stability is great news for the Columbia Gorge. As Gorge popularity increases, important recreational improvements and trail connections need to be made, and scenic overlooks are waiting to be built. A reliable Land and Water Conservation Fund will help Gorge advocates plan for the future to meet the needs of the decades ahead.