Monday, December 17, 2012

Senator Crapo steps up to protect a key conservation program

By Will Whelan, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy in Idaho

These days, it seems rare for senators from both parties to unite on any issue. So, we took note last week when Senator Mike Crapo joined 48 of his Senate colleagues to call for the renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, one of our landmark conservation laws.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1964 directs that a portion of the nation’s revenues from outer continental shelf oil and gas leases be used to acquire new public lands and conservation easements in places with extraordinary wildlife, scenic and recreation values. LWCF has protected many of Idaho most prized landscapes, such as the Sawtooth Valley, South Fork of the Snake, Boise Foothills, City of Rocks, Hells Canyon, and Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Rafting the South Fork of the Snake River, one of the landscapes protected by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Photo by Will Whelan/The Nature Conservancy.

LWCF needs every friend it can get in these challenging political times. Congress has rarely provided the program with the full funding authorized by the 1964 Act, even though it amounts only a small fraction of the nation’s oil and gas revenue. In 2011, an amendment in the House of Representatives to cut all funding for the program lost by just two votes. (Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson helped save the day by rising to debate against the amendment). And, Act’s authorization expires in 2015, which means that efforts to renew LWCF must begin now.

So, it is no small thing that an Idaho senator would join seven of his GOP colleagues to express support for this crucial conservation program. The senators’ letter explains that LWCF – and the economic, health, and environmental benefits it produces – have earned it huge public support:
Support for LWCF comes from interests as diverse as sportsmen’s groups, large landowning companies, the outdoor industry and other businesses, and over 1,000 national, regional, state, and local groups located in every state.

Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, paddling, biking, snow sports, wildlife viewing and other activities contribute to the economy and the health and well-being of Americans….  [T]hese investments are paid for not with general revenue but by using a small percentage of drilling royalties paid by oil companies.

The senators pledge that they “remain committed this Congress to finding a solution that will permanently fix this promise to the American people.”

The letter is just the latest of expression of Senator Crapo’s long-standing interest in collaborative, on-the-ground conservation efforts.  Four years ago, Senator Crapo championed the Owyhee Initiative, Idaho’s first wilderness bill since 1980, because it had the support of conservation groups (including TNC), local ranchers, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, and county commissioners.

You can leave a message to thank Senator Crapo for his support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund or express your views by clicking on this link.

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