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We need to fully fund conservation program

As many of us head out on our summer vacations, sightseeing and picnics, it’s the perfect time to celebrate America’s commitment to preserving the outdoors and our access to it.

But protecting and maintaining these iconic outdoor destinations doesn’t happen by accident — it requires sustained stewardship, as well as money. Right now, Congress has a chance to make sure Pennsylvania’s outdoor treasures are protected for generations to come.

That means fully funding America’s best conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy came up with the idea for the program, later signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The promise? To invest hundreds of millions of dollars in outdoor projects for the benefit of all Americans.

In the 54 years LWCF has been around, it has funded over 41,000 projects in all 50 states, whether it’s national parks (think Valley Forge, the Appalachian Trail, Gettysburg and the Delaware Water Gap), hiking trails or youth sports fields.

All Americans and all Pennsylvanians benefit from LWCF dollars. Despite how long the LWCF has been around, most Pennsylvanians are unaware of how the fund enhances our quality of life and the environment around us. For example, LWCF is the reason we could create the Flight 93 Memorial to both honor the victims from 9/11 and to restore the surrounding area in Shanksville by planting hundreds of trees to build a new forest alongside the memorial.

Over the years, Congress has had to reauthorize the LWCF multiple times, but legislators have only twice fully funded the program at $900 million. Instead, common practice has been to divert the money elsewhere. In fact, Congress has raided $22 billion from LWCF since its inception.

But in 2019, hope rises like spacious skies over amber waves of grain.

With overwhelming majorities, Congress passed a bill signed by President Donald Trump in March that permanently reauthorized LWCF. Then, more recently, a bipartisan group of representatives, including Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick from Bucks County, unveiled a bill in the House that would allocate the full annual allotment of $900 million to the LWCF. That bill has passed out of committee, and now heads for a full floor vote. The Senate also held a hearing on June 25 on a similar bipartisan bill to fully fund LWCF.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick continues to be a vocal champion for Pennsylvania’s public parks and our outdoor treasures. If we are going to protect LWCF for years to come, we need all of our Pennsylvania Senators and members of Congress to fight for secure permanent, long-term funding so that Lycoming County can benefit from places like Tiadaghton State Forest, Little Pine State Park and Mill Creek Dam.

We should remember that one of the reasons we have so many beautiful destinations to choose from is LWCF. I think we can all agree that a dollar spent to protect America’s iconic landmarks today and for generations to come is a good investment.

I’m encouraged and inspired by the overwhelming public support behind LWCF. Now, it’s time for our elected officials to finish the job and fully fund America’s best conservation program.

Jessica Bellwoar is conservation associate for PennEnvironment, a statewide citizen-based non-profit environmental advocacy group.

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