March 14, 2020

Preserve and protect cherished spaces through permanent funding | The Register-Herald

West Virginians have always had a profound appreciation for our public lands and outdoor playgrounds. As a child I grew up hunting, fishing and exploring outside like many of my fellow West Virginians. When I became a father and then a grandfather, instilling a love and appreciation for our wild and wonderful West Virginia in my children and grandchildren was important to me. But we cannot take our backyard playgrounds for granted – we must continue to preserve and protect these cherished spaces for generations to come.

An important step we can take to preserve and protect these areas we love is to permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Since 1965, $243 million of the Fund has been spent to create the parks, trails, and recreational sites that help West Virginians and visitors enjoy our great public lands every day. The LWCF provides public access and protects many of West Virginia’s most popular sites such as Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and every Lower Gauley River access point. Every state, every territory, and nearly every county in our country has benefited from LWCF funding at some point.

The LWCF is also the primary conservation tool that helps provide public access for hunting, fishing and recreational use of public lands, which are all major contributors to our growing recreation and tourism economy in West Virginia. But to continue these programs that directly benefit West Virginia, the LWCF needs to not only be permanently reauthorized but permanently funded.

The day after the Senate passed my bill that secured permanent authorization of the LWCF, I introduced a bill to permanently and fully fund the LWCF. This funding must be secured because there are already $21 billion in LWCF funds that were authorized by Congress but never actually appropriated. Without action, that funding will never be invested back into the LWCF and, ultimately, our great outdoors. This week I led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing the Great American Outdoors Act which will finally secure full, permanent funding for the LWCF and also addresses the $12 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog.

The Great American Outdoors Act would ensure that the LWCF is fully funded at $900 million annually and would also allow Congress to change the president’s proposals and provide for alternative allocations of LWCF funds. The Great American Outdoors Act also provides up to $6.65 billion in mandatory funding to address the maintenance needs of the National Park Service, along with another $2.85 billion for maintenance on other public lands including our National Forests and Wildlife Refuges. This funding will alleviate the maintenance backlog at our National Parks, Forests, and Refuges and will provide a significant benefit to the outdoor recreation economy in West Virginia.

In West Virginia alone, the New River Gorge National River has over $21 million and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has nearly $10.5 million in deferred maintenance needs and the Forest Service has nearly $36 million of needed repairs in West Virginia’s National Forests. We must address these massive backlogs in deferred maintenance to ensure that people can stay at the campgrounds, learn at the visitor centers, experience our rich cultural heritage, and access their public lands.

The Great American Outdoors Act will ensure that every American and West Virginian can enjoy our wonderful public lands and great outdoors. Protecting our public lands should not be a partisan issue. This is a win for every state and every American. It is time we secure full, permanent funding to protect and care for our public lands.

By:  Senator Joe Manchin
Source: The Register-Herald