LandCAN

Water Conservation Fund Bill Passes Senate! But What's Next?

By: Emily Nason
Posted on:02/20/2019 Updated:02/26/2019

Last week the U.S. Senate passed a sweeping and historic bill that would make the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent. A feat many hunters and fisherman, along with environmentalists, had thought was impossible after it lapsed last year. Luckily the bill made it through the Senate!

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been on the federal books for around fifty years. It takes some revenue from oil and gas drilling leases on federal land and invests that money back into communities while also protecting key sources of clean water, cultural heritage sites and other natural areas. Up to nine hundred million dollars a year is collected into the fund annually and then distributed throughout the states. Included in the bill are the following conservation priorities:

  • Permanent Reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF provides funds and matching grants to federal, state, and local governments to acquire lands and waters for recreation and habitat. For more than 50 years, LWCF has supported recreation and conservation in nearly every county in the country.
  • Emery County Public Land Management Act. Protects 972,335 acres of public land in Emery County Utah, covering most of the iconic San Rafael Swell and protecting 63 miles of the Green River as Wild and Scenic.
  • California Desert Protection and Recreation Act. Protects 278,230 acres of Wilderness, expands Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, designates of 77 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers in the California Desert, and creates the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area.
  • Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act. Protects 30,000 acres of National Forest Lands adjacent to the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness and Yellowstone National park from industrial scale gold mining. The passage of this bill makes permanent the 20-year mining prohibition, otherwise known as a mineral withdrawal, that outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed in early October.
  • Oregon Wildlands Act. Protects 30,000 acres of the Devil’s Staircase area as Wilderness, designates 252 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Rogue and Molalla River watersheds, and protects the Chetco River from mining activity.
  • Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Protection Act. Protects 99,653 acres in Oregon’s North Umpqua River watershed as a sanctuary for some of the best wild steelhead spawning areas in the Pacific Northwest. The area provides more than 50 miles of high-quality river and stream habitat for summer and winter steelhead, chinook and coho salmon, rainbow trout, and other native species.
  • Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act. Protects 241,067 acres of by creating eight new Wilderness areas within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
  • Methow Headwaters Protection Act. Protects 340,079 acres within the Methow Valley’s Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest from any mining activity.
  • Jobs. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, paddling, and other outdoor recreation activities contribute a total of $887 billion annually to the economy and supports 7.6 million American jobs.

The fate of the Natural Resources Management Act now rests in the hands of the House of Representatives. While it is expected to pass the House, representatives need to be reminded this bill is important to their constituents. Public lands protections of this magnitude don’t come along often. We haven’t see public lands conservation and recreation success on this scale since the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, which protected nearly three million acres and 1,000 river miles.

Legislation for land conservation does not come around often, said Mary Mitsos, the executive director of the National Forest Foundation. “That’s why I think this package is just so exciting. It’s rare to get this kind of bipartisan support for our lands, and I think that is important for the public to know. If, as a citizen, you care about public lands of all stripes, you need to voice your opinion and show your support.”