Democratic News

Legislation includes over 130 public lands bills, would permanently reauthorize LWCF

To watch a video of Senator Manchin's floor remarks, please click here.

Washington, DC - Today, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, spoke on the Senate floor in support of the Natural Resources Management Act. Yesterday, the Senate voted 99-1 to proceed to a final vote on the legislation.  The Natural Resources Management Act is the largest bipartisan package of public lands bills assembled in over a decade. The package includes over 130 bills and enjoys widespread bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. The package permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a multi-agency land conservation program that expired last year. 

“This package provides permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF is a simple yet highly effective conservation tool with unrivaled success over the last 50 years. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are put into this fund. Since 1965, more than $243 million dollars in LWCF funds have been spent in West Virginia on more than 500 projects, both on state and federal lands. This includes improvements to local parks and public spaces in 54 of our little state’s 55 counties. It also funded acquisitions of our most cherished public lands such as the Gauley River National Recreation Area, the New River Gorge National River, and Dolly Sods in the Monongahela National Forest,” Senator Manchin said in part.

“The comprehensive public lands package is the product of years’ worth of work and negotiations by the authorizing committees. It is thoroughly bipartisan in nature and broad in scope, and passage of this package would be a historical step forward for public lands and conservation,” said Collin O’Mara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

“Many of the bills under consideration in the package would have measurable benefits for conservation of our public lands and waters, the outdoor recreation experiences these places provide, and the thriving outdoor recreation economy that our public lands support,” said Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association. 

“By reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, this bill supports West Virginia’s heritage and outdoor recreation economy and keeps faith with the important idea that America’s outdoors and public lands are part of who we are as a nation,” said Angie Rosser, Executive Director of West Virginia Rivers.

While many sections of the Natural Resources Management Act address issues that are parochial, numerous sections are of national importance. Several provisions are designed to make Federal land more accessible to fishing and hunting. For example, the bill encourages federal land management agencies to cooperate with state and local governments to maintain shooting ranges. The bill also contains provisions that will equip wildland firefighters with state-of-the-art technologies to enhance their safety and effectiveness when managing dangerous wildfires.

The Natural Resources Management Act is supported by the Outdoor Alliance, Outdoor Industry Association, The Conservation Alliance, American Sportfishing Association, Land Trust Alliance, National Wildlife Federation, Public Lands Foundation, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers and dozens more.

The Natural Resources Management Act also:

  • Adds over 367 miles of rivers to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System
  • Adds over 2,600 miles of new trails to the National Trails System
  • Designates 694,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas
  • Provides over 42,000 acres of new additions to the national park system
  • Creates four new national monuments
  • Provides direction to all federal departments and agencies to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting, fishing and recreational shooting opportunities on federal lands.

Read Senator Manchin’s floor remarks as prepared for delivery below:

Mr./Madam President – I am pleased the Senate is moving forward with consideration of S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act. This public lands package includes a wide variety of bills and legislative proposals – currently more than 130 different pieces of individual legislation – that will address many members’ priorities for public lands and natural resources in their respective states.

Mr./Madam President, public lands packages don’t come together often.

Many of the bills in this package provide technical corrections and improvements to existing policies but do not have a significant impact outside their local sphere.

However, these minor bills will improve the way our public lands are managed and conserved at the ground level. While these bills are important to the residents of small towns across America and the members of this body who represent them, rarely will these individual bills receive the floor time they deserve. Because of this, it is necessary for us to move these bills together in a package, which is what we have before us today.

This package was literally years in the making, and builds on the package that was negotiated last December by Chairman Murkowski, Then-Ranking Member Cantwell, Then-Chairman Bishop, and Then-Ranking Member Grijalva of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Together this group came together and negotiated a large package. Unfortunately, the Senate could not pass the package last December, which is why we find ourselves here today.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as the Ranking Member of the Committee, and to be working with my friend from Alaska, Chairman Lisa Murkowski on this package, but also on the many other issues we will consider in the Committee.

I would also like to take this moment to thank the Committee staff, majority and minority, as well as the floor staff for their diligence and work on this package.

I would like include a list of the names who worked on this package for both me and Senator Cantwell on the ENR Committee over the last few months. I would also like to include the names of floor and leadership staff. Mr./Madam President I ask unanimous consent this list of names appear in the record. 

Mr./Madam President, this package enjoys support from numerous national and state organizations across the political spectrum. For example, the National Wildlife Federation and the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation are two of its strongest and most dedicated advocates and I thank them for their support. 

Mr./Madam President I also ask unanimous consent to submit these letters from organizations writing in support of this bill, and ask they appear in the record.

This package should be warmly received by both Democrats and Republicans.

For starters, the package includes numerous land exchanges and conveyances, designates over 1.3 million acres of wilderness, designates 367 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, and provides boundary adjustments, designation changes and management improvements to numerous areas in all four corners of the country.

All of this will improve access, provide recreational opportunities, and allow four of our federal public land management agencies – the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service – to better serve the public through their varying missions as directed by Congress.

Mr./Madam President, our public lands are truly one of our nation’s greatest treasures, and we are unique in how we set aside some of our most special places in the country to be conserved, protected, and easily accessible to the public so we can all enjoy the beauty these areas offer.

Usually, these lands are located in rural areas with few other economic opportunities, making these treasures economic engines for the surrounding communities.

In fact, data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.2 percent of GDP and grew faster than the overall economy.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation supports 7.6 million direct national jobs and $887 billion in consumer spending.

Overall, this contributes billions to federal, state and local governments in tax revenue.

In West Virginia, outdoor recreation supports 91,000 direct jobs and $9 billion in consumer spending. And, each year, 67 percent of West Virginia residents take to the outdoors to escape the hustle and bustle of their daily lives to enjoy the peace and serenity of our wild and wonderful outdoor heritage – it truly is almost heaven.

This package provides permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF is a simple yet highly effective conservation tool with unrivaled success over the last 50 years. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are put into this fund.

Unfortunately, LWCF expired last September. The Natural Resources Management Act provides permanent reauthorization of LWCF.

This permanent reauthorization ensures states and Federal public land management agencies have the ability to continue to protect and conserve our natural resources for the next generation.  And it does so without relying on taxpayer dollars.

Since 1965, more than $243 million dollars in LWCF funds have been spent in West Virginia on more than 500 projects, both on state and federal lands. This includes improvements to local parks and public spaces in 54 of our little state’s 55 counties.

It also funded acquisitions of our most cherished public lands such as the Gauley River National Recreation Area, the New River Gorge National River, and Dolly Sods in the Monongahela National Forest.

This package also includes some long-awaited priorities for sportsmen’s groups.

Each year, more than 350,000 hunters take to the woods in West Virginia to pursue game. These hunting traditions directly benefit rural communities by generating annual revenue and supporting 5,000 jobs. According to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, hunting-related expenditures total nearly $270 million into the state’s economy.

Aside from this, and perhaps most importantly, hunting in West Virginia is one of our oldest pastimes, where friends and family can gather and spend quality time together.

As I work with other members of this very body on difficult issues where we may strongly disagree with each other, we are able to set aside differences when it comes to sportsmen’s traditions. The conversations quickly turn to stories of hunting a deer with our children and grandchildren.

It’s important we provide opportunities to keep these traditions alive. The Natural Resources Management Act will expand and enhance sportsmen’s access by making federal lands throughout West Virginia and the nation “open unless closed” for fishing, hunting, recreational shooting, and other outdoor activities.

As a hunter myself, and as Vice-Chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, I know how frustrated sportsmen’s groups have been trying to get their bills passed the last few years. That’s one of the reasons why I am pleased Chairman Murkowski’s bill, of which I am an original cosponsor, the Sportsmen’s Act, is included in this package.

The Natural Resources Management Act also establishes several National Heritage Areas, including one in West Virginia, the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area.

National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. The Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area has been operating as an ad hoc National Heritage Area for more than a decade.

Despite not having the official designation, the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area has continually done a great deal for West Virginia. For example, the Appalachian Forest Heritage area administers a credible AmeriCorps program.

In one recent program year, 38 AmeriCorps members completed more than 65,000 service hours directly benefiting local rural areas in West Virginia. These 38 members improved 1,700 acres of public land and managed more than 1,000 total volunteers.

By providing the official NHA designation, the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area can earn the national recognition it deserves, and is now also eligible for grants and technical assistance from the National Park Service. This will take their programmatic efforts and other services they provide to the region to the next level.

I believe that this package is a great bill for both my Republican and Democratic friends. Numerous pieces of legislation that have been longstanding priorities for many members are included.

I would like to thank Chairman Murkowski again, as well as other members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee for their efforts to reach an agreement on this bill.

I would also like to thank the Majority Leader for his willingness to bring this bill to the floor.

I believe it’s time to send this bill to the House and to the President for his signature. There are many good pieces of legislation in this package that will be valued for years to come by communities across the country.

I strongly encourage members to vote “yes” on this final package.

Thank you Mr./Madam President, and I note the absence of a quorum.

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