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Protect Cleveland-area parks and natural areas via the Land and Water Conservation Fund: Bill Stanley (Opinion)

September 26, 2018

Protect Cleveland-area parks and natural areas via the Land and Water Conservation Fund: Bill Stanley (Opinion)

DUBLIN, Ohio -- The natural areas and parks we enjoy in and around Cleveland, as well as throughout Ohio and the rest of the country, are more than just lands and waterways; they are an important part of our heritage and well-being.  The Land and Water Conservation Fund helps to protect and maintain many of these sites.

Take for example Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which protects diverse plant and animal populations, features 125 miles of trails, and is recognized as one of the most-visited national parks in the United States.  Or the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, which maintains the home of President Garfield for educational purposes.  Both of these sites have received funding from LWCF, which unfortunately is set to expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress acts. 

Protecting America’s lands and waters is not a partisan issue. These places reflect our shared history, our character and our way of life. Roughly 1,500 special sites in Ohio have been protected and maintained with help from LWCF.

LWCF is one of the most effective tools to not only protect historic and natural areas, but also build sports fields and develop local recreational parks. And it helps to pay for improving public access to streams and lakes — such as at Euclid Beach Park — thereby strengthening our communities.

Forest Legacy Program grants are also funded under under LWCF, to help protect working forests. The FLP cost-share funding supports timber-sector jobs and sustainable forest management operations while enhancing wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation. 

We don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy. Implementing LWCF in our community helps to create jobs and increase tourism.

The outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation economy in Ohio is responsible for $24.3 billion in consumer spending and 215,000 jobs, and generates $7 billion in wages and $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

LWCF does not use our tax dollars. It’s funded by royalties oil companies pay to the government for offshore drilling. Matching grants leverage investments from states and local governments to provide financial support for shared strategies. Ohio has received more than $333 million over the last five decades from LWCF.

Regrettably, this vitally important program regularly receives only a fraction of its full funding each year, and is in danger of ending completely at the end of this month.

President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal would gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund, reducing the program’s budget by more than 92 percent.  Under this proposal, no projects would be funded for federal land conservation at America’s national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and other public lands. 

State grant programs to support local recreation facilities, state parks, wildlife habitat and other community conservation priorities would also be completed wiped out. Without robust LWCF funding in FY 2019, Ohio’s conservation and outdoor recreation needs could be put on hold or lost forever.

For over half a century, LWCF has protected lands and waters in every county in every state in this country. It helps conserve natural ecosystems that people, wildlife and local economies need. It is too important to continue leaving its future in doubt.

Now is the time for Congress to get LWCF the permanent authorization and full funding it deserves. People from all walks of life can get behind a smart solution like this. At a time when political divisions are high, one area of agreement should be clear: LWCF is a win-win for people and nature.

Bill Stanley is the state director and director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Ohio.

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