The Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, PA, is one of the thousands of historical and natural heritage sites the LWCF helped create. Photo by Asiriryansamarasekera.
Remember Obama’s early days, when efforts to reform health care were met with demands that the U.S. government keep its dirty mitts off Medicare? Taking that same cross-eyed look at public institutions, a Utah congressman is determined to shut down a 50-year-old bipartisan stewardship program for forests and parks across the country because he says it’s an improper use of public funds.
“There's no way in hell I am going to allow you...to expand the footprint of the federal government.” --Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, speaking about the LWCF.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was created by Congress in 1964 in response to requests President Kennedy’s call for , “a land acquisition program to preserve both prime federal and state areas for outdoor recreation purposes.” A 221% increase in the use of park and forest lands since 1946 drove Kennedy’s sense that something had to be done, “before the land becomes unavailable either because of skyrocketing prices or because it has been preempted for other purposes.”
The LWCF is funded with money made from economic activity on public lands, mostly royalties from oil and gas drilling leases. It’s a fitting arrangement, and one that has resulted in 5 million acres of protected public space. Since 1978, according to High Country News, the fund has been authorized to receive up to $900 million annually, though in recent years Congress has appropriated less than a third of that. Even so, its work has helped generate hundreds of millions of dollars in outdoor recreation and working lands.
LWCF treasures include contributions to iconic western national parks like Big Sur and Yellowstone, monuments like Pennsylvania’s Flight 93 National Memorial, as well as accessible county parks throughout the country. The LWCF also runs a state assistance program giving matching grants to states seeking to protect forests and rivers, but also to build playgrounds, memorials, boardwalks, ski lodges, and other amenities for people who just want to be outside someplace nice.
The buzz in the news on its shutdown, which happened September 30 when Congress failed to reauthorize the bipartisan program, is that if it could come up for a vote, it would be renewed. The main boulder in the road appears to be Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who refuses to let the LWCF be considered.
“Under my chairmanship, the status quo will be challenged,” Bishop stated.
Exactly what that challenge looks like isn’t yet known, but in 2014, the Utah congressman said the funds should be “reinvested in the education of future American energy industry workers.”
Apparently, the way Bishop sees it, parks, wilderness areas, endangered species reserves, historic monuments, war memorials, and other places that welcome everyone to enjoy natural and cultural heritage really aren’t a matter of national concern and interest.
Invited to defend himself on Fox News in response to accusations from Tim Egan in the New York Times that he doesn’t like public lands, the Congressman said, “I like public lands that are actually controlled by people who live here, in the public.”
Never mind that the whole point is to steward land so there is a place for everyone, not for a few to live on. Government hands off my public space!