Because the U.S. Senate failed to move forward on a critical public lands legislation package, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and a number of other programs will remain in limbo.
Frustration in the delay came from both sides of the aisle and leaders promised to prioritize the 680-page bill when Congress reconvenes Jan. 3.
"It is shameful that Congress has failed to act on a bipartisan public lands package, which would preserve thousands of acres of land for outdoor recreation, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and much more to support the growing $887 billion recreation economy," Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Executive Director Amy Roberts said. "That said, the effort by congressional champions, OIA members, and outdoor activists across the nation is laudable and has served to strengthen our force going into the new year. We look forward to redoubling our efforts and getting this robust public lands package across the finishing line so that Americans of every stripe can continue to enjoy the outside."
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. It expired at the end of September.
Last night's holdup was caused by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who asked that the words "for Utah" be included in the Antiquities Act so a president would have to get approval from the state before expanding or shrinking national monuments, The Hill reported.
"Despite huge bipartisan majorities supporting permanent reautheroization, Congress has dropped the ball on the [LWCF]," said Tom Cors, Director of Government Relations for Lands at The Nature Conservancy and national spokesman for the LWCF Coalition."
"By allowing the objections of a single senator to derail this overarching priority for America's families, communities, and local economies, Senate leadership has left LWCF and the communities that rely on it high and dry," he said. "This is a sad day for everyone who cares about our national parks and public lands, wildlife, trails, irreplaceable historic sites, and public access to outdoor recreation."
According to the LWCF Coalition, comprised of more than 1,000 state and regional conservation and recreation organizations, the program loses $2.5 million per day needed for community-driven projects—equal to 200,000,000 lost as of Thursday afternoon.
Anna Peterson, executive director of the Mountain Pact, an organization that works with more than 50 communities in all 11 Western states, said the "economic success, and cultural vitality of mountain communities across the West are at risk because the Republican led Congress failed to protect America's best conservation program."
"Failure to permanently reauthorize and fully fund this bipartisan supported program is greatly jeopardizing America's public lands, waterways, multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry, community parks, trails, and ball fields across the country," Peterson added.
Needless to say, we will hold Congress to their promise.