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Land & water conservation fund

March 27, 2016
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln set aside Yosemite Valley in 1864 for conservation? Or that Ulysses S. Grant signed a law in 1872 establishing Yellowstone as the world's first national park? I was aware that Theodore Roosevelt set aside millions of acres as forest reserves and numerous national wildlife refuges and monuments. Similar decisions resulted in allocating public lands to be managed for a variety of public purposes, including the National Park System (84 million acres), National Wildlife Refuge System (89 million acres), Bureau of Land Management public lands (247 million acres that include wilderness areas and national monuments), National Forest System (193 million acres), recreation areas operated by the Army Corps of Engineers (12 million acres), military lands (19 million acres), and lands managed by a few smaller agencies.

In more recent history, fifty years ago, at the urging of conservation and outdoor recreation leaders, the president and Congress added lands and waters to the public domain by establishing a source of federal funds to acquire and develop these areas for outdoor recreation and conservation purposes. The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (LAWCON) was a good thing for America.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is financed today through royalty payments derived from leasing submerged lands on the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and natural gas drilling. The chief rationale is that as one finite public resource (oil and gas) is permanently depleted, a percentage of the money derived from selling off what we all own should be allocated to buying other lands for a permanent conservation legacy to be enjoyed by future generations.

Since 1965, Congress has appropriated a total of $10.2 billion for the so-called "federal side" of LWCF, allowing acquisition of 5 million acres of new federal lands and waters. In addition, Congress has allocated $4.2 billion to state assistance grants, which have funded some 41,000 projects in virtually every county in America. State grants, which are provided as 50-50 matching grants, have supported conservation of 3 million acres of land water and more than 29,000 state and local outdoor recreation facility projects.

Some of those areas are right here in our backyards.

Locally, the LAWCON funds have meant the acquisition of the Wolf Creek Recreation Area near Beaman, Grundy County Greenbelt Area in Reinbeck, Black Hawk Creek and Buckles Wildlife Areas near Morrison, and most recently these funds aided in the development of the Grundy County Lake campground near Dike.

Congress allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act to expire September 30, 2015. Congress could just extend the sunset date of LAWCON to 2065. As is always the case, there are many "cooks" wanting to add or remove certain ingredients from the LAWCON stew. Some suggestions have included add maintenance of these areas to come from the funds. Another has been to change the wording requiring not less than 40% to be used on the federal side to a firm allocation to the state side (where our local projects originated).

I have confidence that something will ultimately come out of this for conservation with likely a few other ingredients changed in the mix.



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