Conservation Alliance: To save our land and water, call a Congressperson

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As the federal government prepares to dole out millions for conservation projects throughout the states and territories, and considers permanently authorizing future funding, the Conservation Alliance is urging the outdoor industry to tell legislators this is priority for the industry.

Department of the Interior Sec. Sally Jewell announced earlier this week that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), passed in 1965, would lead to $95 million in funding for community projects this year. But when the law was passed more than 50 years ago, Congress authorized up to $900 million each year. The amount that is actually allocated varies based on budget and political agendas.

Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy acquired this 10,000-acre parcel in 2013 with major support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The property includes part of the Appalachian Trail and 2,000 acres of land were transferred to the State of Tennessee to create a new park. Photo by David A. Ramsey.

President Barack Obama is pushing legislators to permanently allocate $900 million in annual spending, which John Sterling, executive director of the Conservation Alliance, said would be a “game changer.” Such an appropriation – while small in the grand scheme of the trillions our federal government spends each year – is unlikely, but the LWCF is currently set to expire every three years, which is a headache for activists who want to spend their time protecting land rather than lobbying for it.

“Like any political issue, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will succeed or fail based on how many people support it,” Sterling said Wednesday.

While it’s something that seems like a no-brainer to many in the outdoor industry, it’s likely not even on many people’s radar. A similar, state-based fund in Colorado, called Get Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO, funds in-state projects and does a decent job of marketing its influence. The Manitou Springs Incline, for example, an extremely popular and steep trail up an old cog railway on Pikes Peak, has a sign at its base explaining that GOCO contributed to its restoration.

The feds aren’t so good at marketing, Sterling said.

“The federal government doesn’t do a good job of branding the various projects LWCF has paid for,” Sterling said. “If they did, I think they would realize, ‘Holy cow, my community is much better off because of this.’”

So, it’s up to you. Next week, dozens, if not hundreds, of outdoorists will converge on Washington D.C. on behalf of the Conservation Alliance, the Outdoor Industry Association and the Outdoor Alliance, lobbying lawmakers on trade, conservation and recreation issues. SNEWS will be there, too, keeping you in the loop about the issues you may not even realize affect your business and your local parks.

If you can’t make it to D.C. but you want to be involved, pick up the phone and call your local legislators. To find out who represents you, put your address into openstates.org.

Your state’s senators and representatives have the power to prioritize their state’s conservation projects, Sterling said, and they have the power to push their colleagues to allocate more funding to complete more projects.

Keep a close eye on SNEWS next week as we report live from Capitol Hill. For updates, follow us at facebook.com/snewsfan, @snewsteam on Twitter and @snewsteam on Instagram.

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