Mark Tercek is president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.
But with America losing 3 million acres of land a year to development, the time has come to step up protection of the lands and waters that sustain us.
That was the focus of the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors last Friday, which launched a national conversation about how to save the great outdoors, from our ranch lands and national forests to our fishing grounds, neighborhood parks and trails.
We’re going to build on successful conservation efforts being spearheaded outside of Washington -– by local and state governments, by tribes, and by private groups -– so we can write a new chapter in the protection of rivers, wildlife habitats, historic sites, and the great landscapes of our country.
Through its leadership, the Obama administration can establish its place in history as a protector of the places Americans cherish. We strongly endorse the administration’s effort to reach out to people around the country to seek new ideas to advance conservation. (Read my letter to President Obama on his support for the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.)
There’s also an immediate opportunity for action: passing legislation that would provide full and dedicated funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
Right now in Congress, a bill introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman and Senator Max Baucus (S. 2747) would do exactly that. Ten other senators are co-sponsoring the bill, which would ensure $900 million a year to protect America’s most important natural areas and our quality of life.
The administration, too, has shown its support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund by proposing a 29% increase in its budget for 2011. The program, created in 1965, provides funding to protect America’s great outdoors, including national parks and forests; land by rivers, lakes and oceans; working farms and ranches; fish and wildlife refuges; and neighborhood parks.
It is the federal government’s way to balance the use of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – by protecting land and water elsewhere.
This legislation is needed because, despite an increase in energy production revenues, federal funding for conservation has often been low and unpredictable. For instance, in 2009, the U.S. Department of the Interior collected $5 billion from offshore energy. But only $180 million, or about 3%, was set aside to protect America’s land and water (see chart below).
Public opinion polls, including one this week, show that more than 80% of Americans support using funds from oil and gas fees to help preserve our natural areas, and more than 75% of voters believe we can continue to protect the environment while strengthening the economy.
We can’t afford to wait. Overdevelopment, climate change and pollution threaten our natural world and our own health now more than ever. If adequately funded, the Land and Water Conservation Fund can support clean water supplies, jobs and local economies, and the great outdoors.
The celebration of Earth Day and the kind of cooperative conservation highlighted by the president last week point out Americans’ commitment to save our natural world.
Reliable and adequate funding by Congress of the Land and Water Conservation Fund can be an essential foundation for America’s Great Outdoors and other new conservation initiatives of the 21st century. We encourage you to join us in support of this important effort.
(Image: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado. Image credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC.)