By Felipe Benítez
One of few remaining non-partisan causes that supports healthy economies, environment and communities is in jeopardy. For fifty years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has invested in the parks and greenspaces in which our children play, the forests and open spaces in which we hunt, recreate and derive natural resources, and the rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in which we fish, swim, boat and receive much of the water we use each and every day without using taxpayer dollars. Shockingly, the LWCF is set to expire at the end of this month, as Congressional disagreement over how these funds should be spent continues.
Each year, $900 million from federal offshore drilling fees is deposited into the fund. The monies are then invested in ways that protect critical land, water and recreation areas for all Americans. The LWCF literally subsidizes public lands in every district and every county across the country. For some parks and green spaces, this may be the only funding they receive for maintenance and improvements, especially after sweeping cuts to the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other land management agency budgets.
It is vital to tell me members of Congress that the LWCF needs permanent reauthorization with full and dedicated funding. Without it local economic benefits will decline, as these public lands provide a wide variety facilities and services that boost economies through providing local jobs and income from tourism. These spaces also host trees, forests, greenspaces, and open spaces that support mental, physical and emotional health and well-being of communities, which lowers healthcare costs and increases productivity, thereby reducing financial burden of the American worker.
The fund saves taxpayer dollars, creates American jobs, and benefits people in both rural and urban areas. It’s a win for all of us. The LWCF has protected land in every state and has supported over 41,000 state and local park projects. Polls show that conservative, moderate, and liberal constituents favor the fund and many prominent Democrat and Republican lawmakers strongly support it because of the revenue it provides to their home states.
The outdoor industry is one of the healthiest sectors of our economy, even in difficult times. Outdoor recreation, natural resource preservation, and historic preservation activities support 9.4 million jobs and contribute $1.06 trillion annually, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation. The industry also has the potential to create an additional 100,000 to 200,000 U.S. jobs, helping many local and rural communities to become independent and to thrive economically through the resources that this outdoor recreation/tourism industry and these public lands provide.
The return on investment in the great outdoors is tremendous. Increased access to outdoor areas can also lead to healthier people and lower healthcare costs. According to the Nature Conservancy, investing in parks and green spaces can help avoid annual costs of up to $11.7 billion in health care, which currently adds up to nearly 17% of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP,) and up to $928 million in crime-related expenses.
The LWCF is also an investment in our children’s futures. Green high school campus landscapes, and school parks, are linked to higher graduation rates, leading to a projected increase of $1.3 billion in annual lifelong incomes. It also provides underserved and urban communities with increased access to the outdoors, trees and forested areas, and stewardship opportunities, which has been found tocreate a stronger sense of community.
Our greenspaces are worth supporting! Become empowered by asking your Congressional representatives to save the LWCF and pass a permanent extension today. Our commitment and their commitment to our parks, urban and rural forests, waterways and outdoor spaces is essential to a strong economy and the safety, health and general well-being of all Americans.
Felipe Benitez, Executive Director of Corazón Latino, a non-profit organization that mobilizes diverse communities around environmental and public health issues and solutions and promotes conservation education, civic engagement, and social justice.