Many of us will be afield this fall spending time in our favorite hunting and fishing spots. We will be enjoying the tradition of these field sports so important to our lives. But as you head out to the fields, rivers and streams we want you to be aware of an important tool for conservation of those areas we find near and dear to our hearts.
The United States Congress this fall will have a unique opportunity to secure full and dedicated funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the principal source of federal dollars for protecting land in America’s national parks, forests, and other public landscapes and ensuring recreational opportunities for Americans in every state in the nation.
Since 1977, this fund has been authorized at $900 million per year. Most of the funds come from off-shore oil and gas leases, and are to be used for the purchase, from willing sellers, of land with outstanding natural, recreation, scenic, and other attributes, and for the development of outdoor recreation lands and facilities at the state and local level.
In Colorado, Land and Water Conservation Funds have been used for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the Arkansas River Special Regulation Management Area and the Baca National Wildlife Refuge to protect fish and wildlife habitat and increase recreational opportunities.
In New Mexico, funds from the Forest Legacy Program, a part of the Land and Water Conservation Fund have been used on the Carson and the Cibola National Forests to protect fish and wildlife habitat and increase recreational opportunities.
In Arizona, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used on the Coconino National Forest, Saguaro National Park and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to protect fish and wildlife habitat and increase recreational opportunities.
In Montana, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used to create fishing access on the Madison River at Three Dollar Bridge and to protect fish and wildlife habitat and increase recreational opportunities across the state.
In Wyoming, the Land and Water Conservation Funds have been used to protect fish and wildlife habitat and increase recreational opportunities at the National Elk Refuge, on the Bridger-Teton National Forest and across the state.
While the fund is authorized at $900 million a year, in recent years it has received far less than that, leaving a huge land protection and outdoor recreation backlog. Without timely and adequate funding, important opportunities to invest in the outdoors could be lost forever.
The beauty of the fund is its unassailable logic –when the federal government gets funds from the sale of resources we all own, it should reinvest some portion of the proceeds from that sale into the irreplaceable open spaces and recreational opportunities we all need.
The outdoor recreation business is important to local communities surrounding national parks and other public lands. Local economies are made more vibrant and resilient by the natural and cultural amenities and the abundant recreational opportunities provided by parks and public lands. These amenities greatly enhance the quality of life in our communities, help large and small localities attract new residents and businesses and generate tourism-related jobs and revenues.
Hunters and anglers know how important land conservation is to outdoor recreation. Hunting and fishing has become an economic building block in our national economy, generating more than 1.6 million jobs and more than $2 billion annually in salaries, wages, and business earnings. In 2006, more than $70 billion was generated in sportsmen-related retail sales. With the “ripple effect”, this translates to more than $190 billion in total economic activity.
People need to know how much we care about this fund and the special places that it protects such as parks, refuges, trails, cultural and historic places, public lands, and other recreation areas in our community.
Gary Berlin is President of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, the sole trade organization for the fly-fishing industry, dedicated to enhancing the growth and professionalism of fly-fishing business; and supporting the protection, enhancement and restoration of fishing waters.