Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund allowed to expire; state's congressional delegation urges action on key funding for national outdoors areas

By:  Mark Swanson
Source: Peninsula Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — National parks, forests and wildlife refuges could end up short of funding this year because Congress has not reauthorized one major revenue source.

The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided funding for outdoor spaces on the North Olympic Peninsula and throughout the nation for more than 50 years but an Oct. 1 reauthorization deadline passed without Congressional action, and it has expired.

That could mean that the Olympic National Forest won't be able to complete several land acquisitions, said Bob Metzger, forest and fisheries manager.

Metzger said the fund is the primary source of money for land acquisitions. 

He did not know how much the national forest has received.

“We have an ongoing list of acquisitions we would like to make,” he said. 

“Without [the fund], they would probably not move forward.”

The last property acquisition Olympic National Forest made with money from the federal program was at Beaver Lake near Forks, he said.

Olympic National Park's spokeswoman, Barb Maynes, referred questions about how the loss would impact the park to the National Park Service regional offices in Seattle, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other Peninsula facilities that have been supported by the fund include the Dungeness and Protection Island National Wildlife refuges.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of the 6th Congressional District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, as U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray all have pledged to fight for reauthorization.

Kilmer, a Democrat from Gig Harbor, signed a letter with 129 other Democrats on Sept. 29 which asks the House leadership to urge “immediate action to keep the program up and running.” 

A separate letter by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and signed by House Republicans went to the leadership at the same time.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund helps us protect and enhance outdoor spaces that draw visitors and boost local businesses,” Kilmer said. 

“We can't afford for this key program to continue to be shuttered. 

“With my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I'll continue pushing for Congress to get this done,” Kilmer said.

“It's important to the future of our outdoor economy and the natural areas that make Port Angeles and our region so special.”

Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, who is a ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on March 26 introduced legislation with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to reauthorize the fund permanently.

Senate Bill S.890, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, would permanently reauthorize and fund the program.

“In Washington state, visitors to federal lands in the state spent more than $1.3 billion last year,” said Cantwell in a news release on the fund's impact, “so protecting our public lands is not only good for our environment, but also good for our economy.”

Murray, D-Seattle, cosponsored the bill.

A similar House bill, H.R. 1814, was introduced April 15 by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, and cosponsored by Kilmer.

It is now under review by the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans.

The Senate bill was referred to Cantwell's committee for review.

Murray, said press secretary Kerry Arndt, “is going to keep pushing” for a vote.

Kilmer and Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, of the 8th Congressional District, participated in a conference call on June 26 organized by the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition to highlight the importance of the fund.

They joined Cantwell in asking lawmakers to reauthorize the fund.

Arndt said Murray is “a strong proponent of permanently reauthorizing the [fund]. She recently toured the North Creek Forest in her hometown of Bothell to call for congressional action.”

It was the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson who authored the legislation in 1964 that has provided $520 million for Washington lands and parks in the last five decades.

Federal taxes are not the fund's primary revenue source. Instead, it has been funded by fees and royalties paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas.

It has also been funded through the sale of federal real estate and taxes on motorboat fuel.