DESERT SUN: Congress, reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund to invest in natural wonders

Having spent my entire life in California, it would be easy to take our beaches, forests and one of a kind national parks for granted. Especially when you consider that for many of us, we are only two hours or less away from all three landscapes. In a typical day, we could stroll down the coast and then hike into the redwood forest. The outdoors of our beloved Golden State also attracts visitors from all over the world. For example, every summer Huntington Beach hosts the U.S. Open of Surfing and Joshua Tree National Park was visited by more than 2.8 million outdoor enthusiasts in 2018.

What many may not realize is that many of our state’s public lands have been supported through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. From the acquiring of land and renovating facilities to cutting new trails or building a sports field, LWCF has made a tremendous impact at both the state and local level. The program is even better once you learn that since it is funded through oil and gas offshore drilling royalties it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

Yet, even with how important LWCF has been — it has supported more than 42,000 parks and projects nationwide, not to mention 1,600 in California, since it passed 54 years ago — Congress allowed the program to expire at the end of September by failing to reauthorize it.

As a local resident I see how important LWCF is to communities all over the state. Last month, I traveled to the nation’s capital to speak with Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, as well as Reps. Dana Rohrabacher from Huntington Beach, Ed Royce from Brea, and Steve Knight from Santa Clarita, in order to emphasize the importance of LWCF for Southern California and help explain why it should be permanently reauthorized and fully funded. While the program is funded through offshore drilling royalties, it is capped at $900 million annually, but the funds must be allocated by Congress. This explains why the program has only been fully funded twice in its history.

For many Latinos and other diverse urban communities, sites funded through the LWCF often provide the only or most accessible means to experience the outdoors. From having places to connect with nature, spend time with family, enjoy outdoor recreation or explore cultural heritage, LWCF isn’t just about protecting pieces of land or providing specific resources for development, it’s about the connection we have with these places and what they represent for each individual and their communities. These sites matter to people — and the loss of the program would be felt for generations to come.

But all is not lost. LWCF was passed as a bipartisan promise purposely designed to take funds from the extraction of Earth’s natural resources and reinvest them in protecting these places we love. Even though it expired, Congress can still act to save LWCF. When it first came up for reauthorization three years ago, Congress let it expire before giving it a three-year reprieve. Now, is the time to preserve this program’s legacy for good.

Christine Tamara is Southern California coordinator for the Hispanic Access Foundation. Email her at ctamara@hispanicaccess.org.

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