Opinion Pieces

We must protect our public lands

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Washington, DC, September 17, 2018 | comments
Like many veterans, I honor America’s public lands as a cornerstone of our country’s heritage.  The Great Outdoors is our space for recreation and recovery, and serves as the backdrop for key American traditions like hiking, hunting, fishing and camping. Our national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas provide countless gifts to our families and communities, and I believe that protecting them is our patriotic duty. 

That’s why it’s critical that we act now in Congress to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF was created by Congress in 1964 as a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. This essential conservation and recreation program will expire on Sept. 30, 2018, jeopardizing irreplaceable lands and outdoor recreation opportunities in the 25th District and through the nation. I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of legislation to reauthorize and fully fund LWCF so that present and future generations of families in the 25th district have opportunities to enjoy the outdoor treasures of our district. 

For more than 50 years and in all 50 states, LWCF has helped preserve America’s irreplaceable natural, historic and cultural landmarks. California has received more than $2 billion in LWCF funding over the past five decades, protecting dozens of local treasures in my district like the Angeles National Forest and Castaic Lake State Park. 

Nationally, LWCF has also funded the preservation of places that honor our military and veterans. For example, LWCF contributed $10 million to protect the “Field of Honor” — the Flight 93 National Memorial paying tribute to the brave heroes who died on September 11. These places pay tribute to the men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. 

It’s important to note that LWCF poses no burden to the American taxpayer. Its funding comes from oil- and gas-drilling receipts paid to the government by energy companies, dollars that get reinvested right back into our country. As evidence of this, look no further than the outdoor recreation economy, which contributes $92 billion to California’s economy every year. 

The local impact is just as strong — a new report from the Outdoor Industry Association showed that in the 25th congressional district alone, residents spend $1.51 billion on outdoor recreation. This robust consumer spending is fueled in part by places protected by LWCF. Thousands of tourists journey every year visit the Pacific Crest Trail (which runs through my district) and the Angeles National Forest, which contains the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. 

Diminishing protections for these places would also undermine our military’s ability to stay prepared, protected, and able to fulfill their mission. A recent report on military readiness from the Sonoran Institute highlights just how critical it is to protect our public lands when it comes to our military’s ability to defend our country. LWCF helped protect places like Death Valley National Park which serves as a critical buffer to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Lapses in protection could impact the military’s ability to train personnel, test equipment, and fly and drive safely between installations. Any bill that improves our national security while also providing recreation access to communities is a no-brainer.

This isn’t a “red” or “blue” issue — people across the country want to see ongoing support for LWCF. A recent bipartisan poll found that 82 percent of voters want the government to continue directing fees from offshore oil and gas drilling into LWCF to help preserve recreation opportunities in our nation’s most extraordinary places.

We should take every opportunity to support the rare government program that costs taxpayers nothing, yet gives back to them in spades. Congressional leaders of both parties know this, as evidenced by the 230 bipartisan representatives (including myself) who co-sponsored the bill to permanently reauthorize LWCF (H.R. 502).

Communities are counting on us in Congress to renew this vision for the American people. With the deadline looming in just over a month, I urge my colleagues to support LWCF and help advance H.R. 502 through the House of Representatives. 

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