Democratic News

Cantwell: Fully funding LWCF is ‘best thing we can do’ to protect open space and wildlife habitat for sportsmen and outdoor recreation

 

Transcript and Video: Ranking Member Cantwell’s Opening Remarks on the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015

Washington, D.C. Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.) ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, championed permanent re-authorization and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, to support the goals of S. 556 the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015.

During a full committee hearing, Sen. Cantwell called on fellow senators to re-authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which protects public access to recreational opportunities and encourages people to the use the nation’s national parks, forests and public lands.  

“The best thing we can do to continue to protect open spaces and wildlife habitat for hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities is to ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is permanently authorized and fully funded” Sen. Cantwell said. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the country’s most successful law benefitting sportsmen and it needs to be reauthorized.”  

Sen. Cantwell also voiced her concerns with a policy shift from previous versions of the bill. The current legislation includes language to re-authorize the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act - which provides the Bureau of Land Management the authority to sell lands and use the proceeds from the sales to acquire privately owned lands within federal conservation areas. Sen. Cantwell questioned the bill’s proposal to diver the sale proceeds from acquiring and protecting public lands and instead using them for deficit reduction.

“I am concerned with language in this bill that may fundamentally alter the purpose of the Act,” Sen. Cantwell said. “I hope we will amend the policy shift in this bill to reflect the language we have previously supported in this committee.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1965, and is set to expire this year. It funds the purchase and development of parks, wildlife refuges, and recreation resources. There are two components to the program. The federal component of the LWCF provides funding for additions to national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other federal public lands, making it the principal source of funds for federal acquisition of lands for outdoor recreation, habitat preservation, and expanding federal land holdings. A state component of the program provides matching grants to states and localities for investments in outdoor recreation facilities such as parks and playfields.

Below is a full transcript of Cantwell’s opening statement:

“Thank you, Chairman Murkowski, I appreciate your calling this important hearing and your leadership. And I too look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.

"Although similar sportsmen-related legislation has been considered on the floor in the past two Congresses, this is the first time we have discussed this package in committee, and I hope we can use this opportunity to further examine and improve some of the specific provisions in the legislation.

"I would like to also take this opportunity to discuss the larger issue of stewardship and what that does for us and how it continues to give us expanded recreational opportunities for sportsmen on public land.

In the state of Washington, we are fortunate to live among many of America’s most iconic national parks, forests and wilderness areas.

"These public treasures improve our quality of life dramatically, give us important recreational opportunities — including hunting and fishing — and strengthening our economy. Last year, visitors spent a combined 33 million days on federal lands in the state of Washington, and in doing so, spent more than $1.3 billion. According to a recent report prepared by the Jackson Foundation, in the state of Washington alone, outdoor recreation provides an estimated 227,000 direct jobs, that’s an amazing number, and it generates more than $7 billion in wages and salaries. So this is a very important part of our economy and we should make sure that we continue to focus on it.

"The best thing we can do to continue to protect open spaces and wildlife habitat for hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities is to ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is permanently authorized and fully funded. 

"To achieve this goal, I support language in this bill to set aside a portion of Land and Water Conservation Fund each year to secure public access to federal lands for hunting, fishing, and recreational uses. 

"So, if we allow the Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire-which we don’t want it to do-there won’t be any money for the sportsmen that we want in this particular legislation. 

"The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the country’s most successful law benefitting sportsmen — and it needs to be reauthorized.

"In my state, it has helped protect and improve more than 133,000 acres of state and local parks and recreation areas, as well as help protect our public lands, national parks, forests lands.

"Earlier this year, a strong bipartisan group of senators supported reauthorization and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in a vote on the Senate floor. I look forward to working with you on this issue as these pieces of legislation move through the congress.

"This bill includes a separate land acquisition provision, the reauthorization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act.  While I support the reauthorization, I am concerned with language in this bill that may fundamentally alter the purpose of the act, so we want to drill down on that.

"This law authorizes the Bureau of Land Management to sell federal lands identified as appropriate for sale, through a robust public planning process. It then uses the proceeds from these sales to acquire — from willing sellers — privately owned lands within federal conservation areas. 

"The BLM’s authority to sell lands under this law expired in 2011, and I have supported past efforts in this committee to reauthorize it.

"Also, I am concerned, however, that instead of using the proceeds from these sales to acquire and protect public lands, this bill could siphon some of those proceeds off to the Treasury for deficit reduction- so we want to look at that.

"The policy shift from the version of the bill this committee has previously supported, where Federal land sale proceeds were used to acquire other important lands for future generations is an additional issue to look at. I hope we will amend this bill to reflect the language we have previously supported in this committee.

"Once again, I want to thank you personally for your leadership on making sure that bow hunters are covered in this legislation thank you for giving them parity with other hunters. I very much appreciate that. And once again, I believe that a clean reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is a subject that is going to be very important for sportsmen in general. 

"Along those lines, I would also note that protecting hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands is an important priority. And making sure that we are protecting them other recreational uses on public lands is important.

"According to the Bureau of Land Management, 99.98 percent of BLM lands are open to hunting today, and almost 99 percent are open to shooting. 

"While the Forest Service doesn’t have detailed land use statistics available, the vast majority of national forest lands are also open for hunting, fishing and shooting. 

"Federal land use policies should be designed to encourage getting as many people as possible out into their national parks, forests and public lands.

"It is my understanding that both the Forest Service and BLM open lands they manage for hunting, fishing, shooting and other recreational uses unless an area is specifically closed.

"With that in mind, it’s simply worth noting that land use statistics don’t indicate a policy of excessive closure of federal lands. 

"And if we are going to legislate new management policies, we must ensure that any changes protect all recreational uses on public lands.

"With that, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses this morning. Again, Madam Chair, thank you for convening us this important topic."