Renewing Land and Water Conservation Fund wise investment for Kentucky, nation

Kayaker navigated on the Green River, which runs through Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.
Kayaker navigated on the Green River, which runs through Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park. National Park Service

The iconic landscapes of Kentucky and the United States are more than just lands and waters; they are an important part of our heritage and identity and an essential part of our economy.

From Land Between the Lakes to Mammoth Cave National Park to the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Appalachian Mountains, Kentucky’s lands and waters reflect our history and character and support our way of life and a growing outdoor recreation economy.

But our efforts to conserve public lands and improve public access are not done, and every year we lose hundreds of thousands of acres of natural and working lands. Once these places disappear, they are gone forever.

And unless Congress acts soon, we are in danger of losing one of our most valuable and successful programs to conserve the nation’s premier conservation, recreation, cultural, and historic resources — the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Established by Congress in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has invested millions of dollars in protecting Kentucky’s outdoor heritage. These investments have expanded public access to the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, among other popular outdoor destinations.

The approximately $126 million Kentucky has received in LWCF funding over the past five decades has also supported working forests and projects in state and local parks across the state. Regrettably, this vitally important program is not fully funded, and its authorization will expire entirely at the end of September unless Congress acts.

The fund does not use our tax dollars — it is funded by the royalties oil companies pay to the government for offshore oil leases. Its investments leverage state, local and nonprofit funding to deliver lasting results in communities across Kentucky and across the country.

Renewing LWCF is not only good for conserving Kentucky’s open spaces, it makes sense for our state’s economy. The outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation economy in Kentucky is responsible for $12.8 billion in consumer spending and 120,000 jobs and generates $3.6 billion in wages and $756 million in state and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Implementing LWCF in our community helps boost the economy, creates jobs and increases tourism. For over half a century, LWCF has protected lands and waters in every county in every state in this country. It helps conserve natural lands and waters that people, wildlife and local economies need to thrive. No wonder then that the program enjoys broad support across Republican, Democratic and independent voters.

LWCF is too important to face an uncertain future. Now is the time for Congress to provide the permanent authorization and full funding it deserves. Kentucky and the nation will be the immediate and lasting beneficiaries.

David Phemister is director of The Nature Conservancy’s Kentucky Chapter.