Guest Opinion: Conservation Fund must be renewed

If you have marveled at the natural beauty of the Upper and Lower Table Rocks in the Rogue Valley, or hiked the Pacific Crest Trail through the remarkable Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, you have the LWCF to thank.

LWCF stands for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is our country’s most important conservation and recreation program.

When it comes to the world-renowned Table Rocks at the north end of the Rogue Valley, LWCF proved itself an essential tool to protect this incredibly significant cultural, sacred and scenic site by adding more than 800 acres to its mesas.

Yet for all its benefits to the Table Rocks, Cascade-Siskiyou, and other natural Oregon treasures, LWCF faces a serious threat to its existence. While I worked with colleagues of both parties to get $425 million for the decades-old fund in this year’s budget, the long-term fate of this vital program to acquire land for all Americans’ benefit shouldn’t rest on the year-to-year whims of Congress.

The bottom line is this: LWCF will expire in less than six months if Congress fails to act by Sept. 30. That cannot happen.

It cannot happen because LWCF allows everybody to enjoy public lands for recreation like hunting, fishing, hiking and boating.

And this all transpires without costing U.S. taxpayers a dime. Royalties from oil and gas leasing along the Outer Continental Shelf almost entirely funds the LWCF.

Southern Oregon knows well the benefits of the LWCF — more than 50,000 visitors hike the Table Rocks each year and thousands of schoolchildren benefit from outdoor education there. Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., which represents more than 100 local businesses, has expressed strong support for this project.

The story is similar nationwide. Outdoor recreation, conservation and preservation add more than $887 billion to the U.S. economy and support more than 7.6 million jobs.

And, of course, Oregon benefits from LWCF beyond the Table Rocks.

Along the Oregon Coast, the LWCF helped to restore a section of the Alsea Bay, improving runs of threatened coho salmon. As an added bonus to those enhanced recreational opportunities, Waldport High School students now run a small business providing sea kayak tours of the restored area.

In the grassland of eastern Oregon’s Columbia Plateau, the fund helped to open more than 75,000 acres of public access to BLM land along the wild and scenic John Day River and linked boater access to Oregon’s newest state park at Cottonwood Canyon.

And in the Gorge, the LWCF contributed to opening the Mosier Twin Tunnels that had been filled in with gravel to the thousands of walkers, runners and cyclists who now enjoy traveling the Historic Columbia River Highway.

The list of LWCF projects in Oregon is big. And so is the opportunity to continue building on the gains of this established and proven approach.

Taking care of our public lands absolutely requires securing the LWCF funds that protect these iconic places for all of us. That was Congress’ promise when Northwest icons like Sens. Wayne Morse and “Scoop” Jackson sponsored LWCF more than 50 years ago.

Communities in Oregon and nationwide are counting on making permanent that longtime commitment to LWCF for their growing recreation economies and for everybody who has a favorite place that urgently needs protection for generations to come.

Sen. Ron Wyden is Oregon’s senior U.S. senator.

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