Opinion: Economy needs the conservation fund
Sites like Mount Rainier, Deception Pass and Seattle’s Discovery Park speak to us. They speak to our souls and to the ages. They represent the natural beauty of the Northwest – beauty that nurtures us and that has drawn newcomers to the region.
Places like these are timeless.
It’s odd to think, then, that a historic program that enabled the conservation of these special places, and many others across the nation, may itself run out of time on Sept. 30 — that’s when the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is set to expire.
The LWCF has improved and expanded forests and parks for 50 years. The fund, sometimes in conjunction with state investments, assisted in the acquisition of more than 80,000 acres in the Mountains to Sound Greenway — the proposed National Heritage Area that ties our state together, crossing the Cascades from Puget Sound to Central Washington.
LWCF has helped make more accessible iconic places within the Greenway, such as Snoqualmie Point Park and the Pacific Crest Trail.
Continued authorization of LWCF is imperative — not just for the scenic and recreational bounty it helps provide this region, but for the Evergreen State’s economy. Outdoor recreation is one of Washington’s largest job sources.
Each day, 200,000 people go to work supporting in some shape or form the outdoor recreation industry. Together, local residents and visitors to Washington spend $21.6 billion each year on a wide range of outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, kayaking, and skiing. Many of those dollars also go to the restaurants, inns, and main street shops in the small towns across the state that serve as outdoor hubs.
Washington is a leader in the outdoor industry. REI, founded here in 1938, is just one example of locally based businesses that outfit everyone from summithungry climbers to casual campers. Others include Outdoor Research, Brooks Running, Cascade Designs, and many more. Companies like these depend on trail runners, campers, sportsmen, mountain bikers, and myriad other consumers — all of whom enjoy our magnificent outdoor lands and waters.
What does the Land and Water Conservation Fund cost Washington taxpayers? Nothing. No, really — it is maintained by royalties on a small portion of leases between the U.S. government and companies drilling on the outer continental shelf.
And what do we get from LWCF? Take Snoqualmie Point Park as one recent success story. This spectacular site in the city of Snoqualmie was being considered for office park development in the 1990s. With LWCF funding, local, state and federal leaders in the Mountains to Sound Greenway were able to shift the conversation and build a beautiful park with a breathtaking view of Mount Si.
This iconic place now provides public access to popular hiking trails on Rattlesnake Mountain, and with continued investments will provide access into thousands of acres of the new Raging River State Forest, with trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians.
As you might expect, our state has a long history with LWCF. In fact, it was Washington Sen. Scoop Jackson who spearheaded the initiative to create the fund, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1965.
Today, in the same bipartisan spirit, Sen. Maria Cantwell (DWash.) has teamed up with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (RAlaska) to draft an energy bill that would permanently reauthorize the fund. Rep. Dave Reichert (RWash.) has cosponsored a House bill that would do the same. That’s the kind of leadership we can be proud of.
But pride by itself isn’t enough. Sept. 30 is coming up quickly, and Congress has to act. We need action in the other Washington to maintain the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It is crucial for our forests and parks tomorrow. And it’s crucial for our economy and our citizens today.
Eric Artz is chief operating officer and chief financial officer for REI. Jon Hoekstra is executive director of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.