More than 280 outdoor-focused businesses have joined The Conservation Alliance and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) in sending a letter asking Congress to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, expiring on Sunday.
And to ensure their message is received, read, and understood, some businesses and organizations are in Washington D.C. this week for the final push.
"Being part of the outdoor industry, we’re all so familiar with LWCF, and the program enjoys wide bipartisan support and awareness," NEMO VP of Marketing Kate Paine wrote from Washington D.C. "But the details, such as the number of federal, state, and local initiatives funded by LWCF, or the impact that it has on our local economies, can sometimes be overlooked. We want to share our firsthand accounts of the impact and importance of the LWCF."
In 1956, Congress created the LWCF and started directing a small portion of fees imposed on offshore oil and gas to conserve and ensure access to public lands. Since then, the fund has directed $3.9 billion to nearly 42,000 projects through state and local programs and to national parks, forests, monuments, and wild refuges.
But Congress has rarely funded the program to its full potential—$900 million per year. When the fund ran out in 2015, Congress extended it temporarily for three years. Now, it's up again and advocates are pushing for full funding.
Gear manufacturers, PR agencies, distributors, retailers and outfitters, small family businesses, startups, and Fortune 1000 companies have united to save the fund.
"NEMO signed the letter because we understand how important LWCF is to enabling Americans to get outside for recreation; and not just the epic trips to our amazing national parks, but also the close-to-home adventures that are 10 minutes away and allow us to build recreation into our daily lives," Paine said. "And we know that this makes us all better human beings—experiencing nature, challenging ourselves, exposing our kids to the wild, bonding with others through healthy activity. It’s been long recognized how important our wild spaces are, and that’s unique to our country."
5 places protected by the LWCF, according to the Department of the Interior:
1. California Coastal National Monument at Point Arena
2. Everglades National Park in Florida
3. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana
4. Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia
5. Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
According to OIA's Recreation Economy report, outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in consumer spending, sustaining 7.6 million American Jobs. These outdoor-focused businesses depend on the same protected places that the LWCF supports.
“LWCF is the backbone of healthy communities and healthy economies across the country,” OIA Executive Director Amy Roberts said in a statement. “Outdoor businesses need certainty that LWCF projects will continue to open access to the outdoors. It’s time for Congress to reauthorize and commit to fully funding this critical program once and for all.”
Brian Holcombe, principal at rygr—a Carbondale, Colorado-based PR agenc—said that as members of the active and outdoor industries, signing the letter and standing up for this cause was a no brainer.
"LWCF isn't just funding that impacts one outdoor community—not just climbers, not just quiet recreationists, not just boaters," he told SNEWS. "It's everyone and anyone that enjoys accessing protecting wildlands. I can't think of a more important discussion when considering funding for our public lands than this for Congress to be taking up given the deadline."
Permanent reauthorization of the program, with 3 percent dedicated to recreation, passed the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this month, and was sent to the full House.
But if Congress fails to do anything before Sept. 30, it will expire, leaving important conservation and recreation projects without annual funding.
"Every day that passes, that Congress does not take up the debate and move forward feels we are getting closer to losing that funding," Holcombe said. "Given the state of political discourse in Washington D.C., I can't say that it's easy to be optimistic about conservation and recreation funding, but we're certainly hopefully that the LWCF will move forward.