Cantwell: Public lands good for the body, the soul and the economy

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: Seattle PI

Protected public lands are an idea America bequeathed to the world, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and two colleagues appealed Wednesday for restoration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program created by the man whose seat Cantwell now holds, Sen. Henry Jackson, D-Wash.

“For the first time in 51 years, since this program was created, it has expired,” said Cantwell.  She was joined by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

Renewal of the LWCF has been blocked by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. The Utah Republican has said he will do nothing to “expand the footprint of the federal government,” and suggested that LWCF dollars be “reinvested in the education of future American energy industry workers.”

The fund was initially suggested by President John F. Kennedy, taken to heart by Jackson, and signed into law (along with the Wilderness Act) in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.  It uses a small portion of federal revenue from offshore oil leases to buy up recreation land and wild places.  It has invested $659 million in Washington projects over the years.

Why create such a fund?  “Because the American population was growing, there was a need for outdoor recreation, open space and public lands,” Cantwell told colleagues.

And, the senator argued, public lands are an economic boon — particularly to the West.  Recreation generates employment.  “Nationwide, outdoor recreation supports more than six million jobs,” said Cantwell.  “This is an economy in and of itself.

“In the state of Washington, outdoor recreation contributes more than $11 billion annually to our economy, and it’s clear that protecting out public lands is good for both our environment and economy.”

Cantwell is the senior Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a panel once chaired — it was then named the Senate Interior Committee — by Sen. Jackson.  She has worked with the panel’s chair, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, trying to come up with bipartisan legislation that would permanently reauthorize the LWCF.

Cantwell is also one of 31 Democratic senators cosponsoring energy legislation that would permanently set in place the LWCF.

But the House is a more partisan place where ideology holds sway.  Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has voted to kill the LWCF, although the fund paid for major expansion of Riverside State Park, just outside of Spokane, a popular recreation area in McMorris Rodgers’ district.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., also voted against LWCF in 2011, although the fund has paid for major projects in her Southwest Washington district, from protecting an 800-year-old cedar forest in Willapa Bay to creation of the Julia Butler Hansen Columbian White Tail Deer Sanctuary on the Columbia River near Cathlamet.

The LWCF’s major defenders and advocates in Washington’s congressional delegation have included Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash. In recent years, Cantwell has climbed both Mount Rainier and the Grand Teton in Wyoming, as well as Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.