Friday, March 27, 2009

Land&Water Conservation Funding Gets Boost

a news release of The Trust for Public Land

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar hosted a community forum on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at City Park in New Orleans on March 18 after opening an offshore oil and gas lease sale that will support land conservation efforts.

The Trust for Public Land applauded Salazar's leadership in improving the LWCF, saying that it is the federal government's premier tool for preserving land.

"Money flows into the fund from federal offshore oil and gas leases, just like those which were sold this morning," said Larry Schmidt, director of TPL's program in Louisiana. "But even though $900 million goes into the fund every year, a far smaller percentage of that money has been spent annually for its intended purpose - to conserve land around America.

"We note that President Obama has proposed increasing LWCF spending next year and he has called for full funding - $900 million - by 2014," he said. "TPL and more than 50 other organizations around the country have joined together to support the effort by you and President Obama to increase the use of LWCF."

Schmidt said that "TPL has joined this coalition - and is rallying behind your leadership - because the Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected some of the most iconic and important lands in the nation, from the Everglades, to the Rockies, to the Florida and California coastlines. And it has also protected places which tell the story of America, such as Civil War battlefields, and the Martin Luther King Jr. site in Atlanta."

Since 1964, LWCF has protected millions of acres by adding them to America's national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, national trails, state and local parks, and other protected lands. In recent years, however, precipitous declines in annual funding through the program have led to an enormous backlog of priority conservation properties, and to incompatible and often devastating development within these otherwise protected public assets.

"One of the places we at TPL, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, have protected is just a few miles east of here," Schmidt pointed out. "Last year, we added more than 2,000 acres of wetlands to the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. The money to do that came from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Our work at Bayou Sauvage is an example of all the good which can be done if the federal government is a consistent partner."

Schmidt said Salazar's announcement at City Park showcases the real need for full funding of LWCF. "As a native of New Orleans, I know how important this park is to the people who live here. It was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina and rebuilding it is a major statement about our belief in the future of New Orleans. It has been - and is - a place of major investment in conservation, and is a real demonstration of the need for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund."

Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1965 to meet the nation's growing desire to preserve natural areas, culturally and historically significant landmarks, and outdoor recreational opportunities. LWCF funding has been low and unpredictable over the program's forty-four year history, approaching the full funding level of $900 million only twice. In the past ten years, program funding has followed a dramatic decline while demand for these funds to protect our nation's most treasured natural, cultural, and recreation areas has skyrocketed.

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