Our nation’s most important conservation program is at risk. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, the fix is simple and inexpensive.
Call us biased, but we think Central Oregon is the most beautiful part of Oregon, maybe the nation.
We’re not the only ones who seem to think that. People come here in droves — some for days, some for the rest of their lives — because of our access to world-class outdoor spaces. And this is great for Central Oregon’s economy. In 2017, the Outdoor Industry Association reported that 69% of Oregonians engage in outdoor recreation, generating $16.4 billion in consumer spending and 172,000 jobs statewide. Recruiters for growing industries like health care and technology use Oregon’s reputation as an outdoor recreation paradise as one of their lures.
Which leads us to wonder, how can we ensure the things we all love about Central Oregon – things that are the foundation of our 21st Century economy – do not evaporate like a shallow desert puddle after a sagebrush-scented rain? We have an idea, and it won’t cost taxpayers a cent.
Congress can and should fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
You may not have heard of it, but LWCF is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful conservation programs. In Bend alone, LWCF has helped fund projects like the development of Columbia Park, stadium lights at Vince Genna Stadium, a water system for Shevlin Park and swimming pool rehabilitation at Juniper Park. Elsewhere in Central Oregon, LWCF has expanded and protected national treasures like the John Day Fossil Beds. It’s likely that nearly every one of us has stepped foot on public lands protected by LWCF at some point in our lives.
Congressionally created in 1964, LWCF uses revenues from the depletion of one natural resource — offshore oil and gas — to support the conservation of another precious resource — our land and water. Every year, energy companies drilling for offshore oil and gas pay $900 million from royalties into this fund, but Congress breaks its commitment to the American people by diverting at least half to uses other than public lands conservation and recreation. Because of that, there is a long backlog of projects awaiting funding.
So, what could LWCF fund in the future? Well, one very large example lies just west of Bend – the 33,000-acre Skyline Forest. Since 2006, the Deschutes Land Trust has worked to protect this 50-square-mile block of private timberland. On the basis of its remarkable scenic, recreational, ecological and educational values, the Land Trust secured a $4 million commitment from LWCF to help protect Skyline Forest, only to see the transaction collapse during the Great Recession, when the property changed hands. While the Land Trust has never given up on protecting Skyline Forest, the Land Trust’s success ultimately depends upon having both a willing landowner and funding sources like LWCF available when the opportunity presents itself.
Fortunately, most of Oregon’s congressional delegation have championed permanent and full funding of LWCF, with the House of Representatives having passed its bill and Oregon’s senators on record supporting legislation in the Senate. However, support is one thing and getting this key piece of legislation across the finish line is another.
In a time of exceptional divisiveness in our nation, there is one place that we’ve seen people from all different places, backgrounds and political affiliations find agreement: LWCF. Hunters and anglers, city dwellers and rural folk, conservationists and business owners all recognize the value of public lands and LWCF. We implore Congress to get this done as soon as possible so that Central Oregon can continue to be a place of beauty and bounty.