Tuesday, November 10, 2015


The George Washington-Jefferson National Forest—covering over 1.8 million acres in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, it is one of the largest blocks of public land in the eastern United States, however non-contiguous and geographically tattered.

    In May of 2014, a portion of that map—the Old Dominion’s legacy of public land access—was filled in. Thanks to the land ethic and cooperation of the Campbell family—private landowners from Nelson County—317 acres surrounding Spy Rock were purchased through the National Park Service with funds provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Consequently, a portion of the Appalachian Scenic Trail and the scenic view from the Rock were preserved while providing opportunities to better wildlife management and access for outdoor recreationists.

    Over the course of its 50-year history, the LWCF has effectively leveraged the preservation of over 5 million such acres.

    Unfortunately, in September of 2015, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the House Natural Resources Committee chairman, allowed the LWCF to expire, representing anti-federal leanings present in parts of the West where the majority of the country’s federal public land is located.

    Conceived in 1964, the LWCF embodies Congress’ bipartisan promise to work to preserve public natural areas, water resources, cultural heritage, and other recreational spaces in the American image—and at no cost to taxpayers. A small fraction of revenue generated from oil and gas companies drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf has historically provided Congress with up to $900 million dollars to be funneled into the Fund annually, though in recent years, about two thirds of that money has been rerouted to fund other, unrelated projects, and is untraceable. 

    The funds that are allocated to the Fund are divvied up into federal and state pools, to benefit an array of different spending projects. On the federal side, funds are utilized to purchase inholdings—swaths of privately-owned land within or adjacent to federally-owned public land. Interested landowners are offered fair market value by a land trust or group like the Nature Conservancy, and the land is then sold to the state or federal agency.

    State-allocated money is utilized more broadly. “State dollars flow to each state to spend on state parks, greenways, county parks, ballfields, trails, etc.,” said Jay Leutze, a trustee of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. “There is also a powerful part of the program called Forest Legacy that purchases conservation easements from working forest owners. They get to stay on the land, own it, timber it—Forever. It’s a great program that helps the local timber industry and families. Land gets protected and the government has no maintenance cost.”

    Now that the LWCF is in limbo, so are the projects scheduled for the 2016 fiscal year. In Virginia alone, over $8 million dollars was on schedule to purchase land within the Washington-Jefferson National Forest. Still another $15 million was set to protect critical resources within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the New River headwaters. While this money will still flow towards these projects this year, most of these deals will require more than a year’s time, and will likely outlast their monetary resources.

    Likewise, the expiration of the LWCF on September 30, earlier this year, was certainly counted as a loss within the sportsman’s community. However, no time has been lost in launching a campaign to reauthorize it with full funding.

    Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana told Backcountry Hunters and Anglers that reauthorization of the LWCF has “a higher probability if we attach it to another piece of legislation.” Senator Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, a local champion of the LWCF, continues to seek out that vehicle bill. Current candidates include the currently-proposed omnibus spending bill or a highway bill that will fund the Highway Trust Fund. Regardless, LWCF advocates must first convince Congressional leadership to allow the amendment of such a bill with the LWCF reauthorization provision.

    On the morning of November 5, Rep. Bishop presented a bill including his own changes to the LWCF, among them a call to limit federal land and water acquisition at 3.5 percent. He is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill on November 18—just three Congressional work days following this publication.

    It is critical to the future of public land and conservation that the LWCF be reauthorized (preferably, with full funding). Virginia’s own Rep. Rob Wittman, R-VA, currently sits on the House Natural Resources Committee, and has historically been in favor of the LWCF. As Virginia sportsmen, this is our point of contact. Make your voices heard.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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