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