ANALYSIS: Congress needs to act on the conservation fund

Tyler Thompson

There’s something special about going to the park. It’s a place to escape from reality, to explore and bask in the cradle of nature.

These federally protected lands have been available to the public since 1872 and now feature 450 unique parks. In 2015, parks generated $32 million in revenue for the economy and created 300,000 jobs.

In 2017, 331 million people visited National Park services. Parks are vital to the American lifestyle.

Great news: These lands are maintained by a billion-dollar act of Congress, the Land and Water Conservation Act.

The fund is backed by federal oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. Revenue generated from these resources is used to conserve parks, wildlife refuges, forests, open spaces, trails and wildlife habitat. For 52 years, the fund has been responsible for the protection of over 2.73 million acres of land and over 40,000 state projects.

Unfortunately, good news is often followed by bad news.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired Sept. 30. However, re-authorization is possible. The Senate introduced bill S. 569 that can permanently re-authorize the fund. Both Republicans and Democrats are for the bill. Ohio’s own Sherrod Brown (D) co-sponsored the bill. Rob Portman (R) voted in favor. Sadly, Congress is out until election season is over, leaving the re-authorization suspended in limbo.

The National Park System is already considering a spike in entry fees. In 2017, NPS announced a proposal to increase the entry prices to 17 of the most popular national parks; Yellowstone and Yosemite are among the group. The goal is to double pricing during peak seasons to address the overwhelming need for maintenance.

The acquisition of the abandoned Richfield Coliseum in Northeast Ohio is due to the fund. The coliseum was once home to the Cleveland Cavaliers and hosted 200 events a year before shutting down in 1994.

The stadium, a graveyard of rebar, concrete and overgrowth, was demolished and returned to its natural state, a rolling field protected by the park. Trees grace the field’s interior; luscious forests coddle the land.

$10 million dollars in state grants were used from the LWFC, stopping an impending sprawl that threatened the surrounding area. Abandoned structures are a hazard and attract trespassers.

 

An analysis from 2014 to 2017 said 293 U.S. public land and LWCF projects were completed in 42 states, protecting 431,000 acres alongside parks and public lands from development.

Additionally, 92 other projects are proposed with 221,000 acres in sight. If the fund fails, the immediate loss is a minimum of 223 LWCF projects and 318,000 acres in jeopardy.

There’s hope for the fund, but it’s hard to say what will happen between now and the election.

Without parks, there’s no bliss-filled corner to make an escape. Places of tranquility disappear, leaving the door open for commercial developers to devour the land. Parents have no place to let their children’s adventurous spirits blossom.

Parks are the only defense nature has against a man-made world; the LWCF is the backbone of their vitality.

Tyler Thompson is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected]