Op-Ed: Protecting national parks in Pa. and NJ should be priority for lawmakers
The writer, historian, and outdoorsman Wallace Stegner called our National Parks “America’s best idea.” One need only spend a moment in New Jersey or Pennsylvania to see the truth in that. Yet, despite our land’s undisputable beauty, nobility, and significance, our public lands are in grave danger if Congress fails to provide America’s most important conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), with the funding it needs.
For over 50 years, LWCF has made the difference in protecting threatened properties in our national parks, forests, and wildlife areas even as it has fueled critical conservation and recreational opportunities at the state and local level. After years of short-term reauthorizations, and a brief expiration, we and our colleagues voted overwhelmingly to permanently authorize LWCF earlier this year, ensuring that it will be around for future generations. While that was a big step forward, annual funding still is not assured – and that is something we are working together to change.
LWCF has been around for more than half a century, but in that time more than half its intended funding has been redirected. As a result, over $22 billion that should have been invested in outdoor recreation and conservation have gone somewhere else. Diverting these LWCF funds for non-conservation purposes short-changes our communities and the public lands we all love. It also deals a huge blow to our economy.
Investments in America’s natural infrastructure – particularly increasing access to public lands for outdoor recreation – are a key driver of the economy. Outdoor recreation is among our nation’s largest economic sectors, thriving even when the broader economy has suffered. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, paddling and other outdoor recreation activities contribute $887 billion annually to the U.S. economy, providing jobs for 7.6 million hard-working Americans. These are honest, well-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced or exported.
Beyond those statistics, the array of places that depend on LWCF is truly staggering. In New Jersey alone, LWCF has invested more than $350 million in historic sites and natural areas including the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, which provides access for hunters, anglers, and other sportsmen and -women. Similarly, LWCF has invested over $309 million in Pennsylvania, protecting hallowed sites including Valley Forge, Gettysburg, the Flight 93 National Memorial, Nockamixon State Park, and Tyler State Park.
LWCF is able to meet these and other critical conservation priorities, in our states and all across America, without using a dime of taxpayer dollars. It is funded entirely from national oil and gas royalties, under the sound principle that the depletion of one natural resource we all own should be offset by the permanent protection of other resources we all need.