Far-reaching public lands bill reauthorizes Land and Water Conservation Fund

Baby Atlantic loggerhead turtles crawl across the sand to the sea in a file photo from Virginia’s False Cape State Park. (© Lynda Richardson)

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Congress passed and President Donald Trump recently signed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, far-reaching conservation legislation that designates more than 1 million acres of new wilderness, protects two national parks from nearby mining, protects 621 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, expands eight national parks and—in a key move—permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Many of our region’s most special places are protected and available for public recreation because of this fund.”

—Senior Attorney Sam Evans

The fund was created in 1964 and has been called “the nation’s single greatest tool for funding conservation.” Using a portion of revenue from offshore oil and gas development, for more than 50 years, the fund helped preserve historic battlefields, secure easements to provide access to public land, build playgrounds and public parks and piers, and improve local, state and national parks.

“The fund touches almost every county in every state in the nation. People like it and they want to see more of it,” John Tynan, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, told the Charleston Post and Courier. The fund first ran into trouble in 2015, when routine reauthorization was held up in the House. Congress finally reauthorized it for three years, but that lapsed late last year. A bill to permanently reauthorize the fund languished for months, then fell victim to the deadlock that led to the government shutdown in late 2018.

But in mid-March the bill made it to President Trump’s desk, where it was signed. In the U.S. Senate, it passed as part of omnibus legislation including the permanent reauthorization of the fund in a 92-8 vote. In the House of Representatives it passed by a vote of 363-62.

Numerous projects in the Southeast United States have been funded through this fund. From an addition to the Eno River State Park near Durham, N.C., to improvements to the Sunbright City Park in Tennessee, to acquisition of land for False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, Va., millions of dollars in grants have helped create, improve, or expand outdoor recreation facilities across the Southeast.

“Many of our region’s most special places, like Rocky Fork State Park in Tennessee and the Walls of Jericho in Alabama, are protected and available for public recreation because of this fund,” said Sam Evans, SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program Leader.

Approval of this reauthorization guarantees hundreds of millions of dollars a year going to conservation projects across the nation, improving the quality of life in communities everywhere.

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