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Federal land fund in jeopardy without congressional action

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The Grand Canyon and Saguaro National Parks, Lost Dutchman and Patagonia Lake State Parks – if you’ve been to any of these popular outdoor places and many others in Arizona, you’ve enjoyed the benefits of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF may be little known to the general public, but it is without question America’s most important program to conserve irreplaceable lands and water, and has justifiably enjoyed wide bipartisan support since its inception in 1964. For over 50 years, LWCF is responsible for funding the acquisition and enhancement of federal, state, and local public lands in almost every state and county in the nation, ensuring that all Americans have access to recreate and enjoy our lands and parks.

But despite its bipartisan support through more than 10 administrations and support of more than 41,000 local parks, ballfields, and recreation projects, if it is not renewed by the current Congress before September 30, LWCF will expire after 53 years of outstanding service to the American public.

Paul Eaton

Paul Eaton

Garett Reppenhagen

Garett Reppenhagen

Many groups understandably support LWCF, and certainly U.S. military veterans do. As two veterans who both come from a family of veterans, we served proudly and returned home. For us and many others, the great outdoors is an incredible healing medicine that helps to recover from the after effects of battle. So many of us find a peace we hadn’t known for a long time. It is often a transformative experience and the first page in a new beginning. Now, with our own children we pass that on and continue the traditions of hiking, camping, and enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. It’s no wonder for us that ensuring LWCF helps to protect that sanctuary is a no-brainer.

In Arizona, LWCF has contributed approximately $235 million over the past five decades to protect the great outdoors, in popular national and state parks and in grants for hundreds of local projects such as improving Juhan Park in Tucson, Grayhawk Community Park in Scottsdale, and the development of Long Homestead Park in Phoenix – all playing a role in growing Arizona’s lucrative $21.2 billion annual outdoor recreation economy.

What makes congressional non-action to fully fund and permanently reauthorize this vital program particularly nonsensical is that the many benefits provided by LWCF come at no cost to taxpayers. LWCF was authorized to receive up to $900 million annually taken only from royalties paid by oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

LWCF also helps to protect historic battlefields that are part of our American heritage about which veterans care a great deal. Without  LWCF, some of America’s most significant historic battlefields and monuments will lose critical funding that preserves them for future generations, including the iconic Gettysburg battlefield and the 9/11 Memorial. We stand to forfeit these and other conservation opportunities in mid-flight and future successes that may never happen without the fund’s renewal.

Perhaps most troublesome is the 180-degree pivot on LWCF by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former navy SEAL. When he was a U.S. congressman for Montana, he was all in, but now under the watch of President Trump he has proposed to zero out virtually all monies allotted to LWCF. Coming from a military brother, this turnaround is especially disappointing.

On the bright side, Arizona is fortunate to have a powerful advocate for LWCF in Congressman Raul Grijalva, who insightfully considers the fund an “investment in the future of our country.” He has continually introduced bills intended to make authorization for LWCF permanent. We thank him for that, but now, as the expiration date is near, we ask him to call on his congressional colleagues even more emphatically to come together and renew LWCF.

Along with millions of Americans who are enthusiastic about outdoor recreation, the notion of reducing public access for outdoor activities is abhorrent to many veterans. We have a deep understanding about outdoor places – take care of them and they will take care of us.  That’s what LWCF has been doing fantastically for 50 years at no cost to taxpayers.

We need to keep LWCF alive and well so that it may help to keep not only veterans, but all of us more alive and well.

— Major General (Ret.) Paul Eaton served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army, including combat and post-combat assignments in Iraq, Bosnia and Somalia. He is the managing director of Vet Voice Foundation.

— Garett Reppenhagen is a military veteran of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division where he served as a sniper and cavalry scout in Kosovo and Iraq. He is the Rocky Mountain West coordinator for Vet Voice Foundation.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

3 comments

  1. These two have other motives. Money is better spent directly on veterans.

  2. Reply to Trump Supporter
    There is NO other motives by these two fine and honorable gentleman in this opinion piece. Have you served? Do you not know that there are numerous groups to help combat veterans suffering from PTSD or other physical wounds that take them out in nature – It’s been proven you can begin the healing both emotionally and physically by taking up an activity like kayaking, hiking, fly fishing etc. You’re comment is ignorant. Support by veterans and support for our public lands should NOT be red or blue issue. Every administration on both sides of the political spectrum have funded the LWCF. Unfortunately with this weak and stupid administration the president neither supports our veterans or our public lands. His choice for EPA and Interior says it all – drill, drill, drill, greed, greed and more greed for his corporate buddies. He didn’t even serve, but got 5 deferments! They are ones out to destroy America.

  3. To trump supporter in the comments above. No matter what you or I believe their motives are, or are not, to say the money is better spent directly on veterans, while it would be true in other cases, can’t be backed up by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to our current administration now can it? I agree, it would be better if the money was spent on our veterans, but it won’t. The people in charge in no way care about, nor would they ever dream of lowering themselves to actually speak with any of us, let alone allow the money people pay their taxes for, actually make it to where it should go, and help any citizens here in what is left of our country. As for facts, I have visited the mentioned places that these two are in charge of caring for, and they seem to be doing something right, as they are well kept, and more importantly, accessible to the public. Are you also going to ask us to believe that if the funding for these parks are cut, that there won’t magically be mining companies lining up to get there hands into our land here? You, all other supporters, and any other in favor of this, I would like to say; You had better believe there will be a point of no return for all of you. What exactly do you all tell your children when you come home at night, or do they really know what you do? The major portion of the population of this country see what is being done, and there will come a point where, blinded by your own greed, you will cross the line that cannot be uncrossed, and though your people only see conflict as profits and dollars signs, if this were to happen, be aware that this would not be happening over seas, or in some other country, it will be here. The people are also aware that there is multiple campaigns to divide the people, as to keep us fighting while the administration continues there nefarious goals. I would think twice before cutting money to our lands. Matter of fact, you all need to just quit taking things that are not yours period. When you fail, and you will, the same Constitution that all of you either directly, or through your support, attempt to destroy, will be the same piece of parchment and ideals that will lay out exactly how the guilty ones are to be, and will be dealt with. You may want to go freshen upon the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, because no longer will we allow the expansion of a certain few peoples rights be at the cost of the rights of the rest of us.

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