By Jim Howe
Years ago it was thought that we couldn’t grow our economy without sacrificing our environment. Today, we know the opposite is true: A healthy environment is a prerequisite for a healthy economy. Time and again, investments in our lands and waters have demonstrated their ability to generate valuable benefits. Proof in point: a small, but vital federal program called the Land & Water Conservation Fund.
The LWCF represents one of the biggest bargains in U.S. history. By using a portion of offshore oil and gas drilling fees to protect important lands, waters, parks and working landscapes, the LWCF has improved public health and economic prosperity. If you enjoy clean water, healthy lands and vibrant communities, you’ve benefited from it.
But unless Congress acts soon, the LWCF will expire on Sept. 30, and with it one of our country’s greatest principles – that every American should have access to parks, outdoor recreation and public lands.
When Congress passed the LWCF 50 years ago, lawmakers did so knowing that outdoor recreation is fundamental to our well-being and the health of our communities.
Thanks to strong bipartisan support, LWCF investments have created and enhanced local and state parks, working farms and forests, wildlife refuges, national forests, historic sites, and access to hunting, fishing and boating. Over the past five decades, New York has received $327 million in LWCF funding, protecting places like Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, Saratoga National Historical Park and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in Buffalo.
At the local level, LWCF funding has supported thousands of parks in every county in the U.S. In and around Buffalo, places like Delaware Park offer city dwellers a chance to explore trails, history and the arts, and access the many health benefits time in nature provides.
Such investments also translate into a big boost for New York’s economy. The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation contributes $41.8 billion annually in consumer spending, supports 313,000 jobs which generate $14 billion in wages and salaries, and produces $3.6 billion annually in state and local tax revenue.
Of course, nature also provides us with critical “ecosystem services”: wetlands filter our drinking water and help prevent flooding; forests and trees filter our air and temper heat waves; and healthy coastlines protect us from storms. Spending time in nature also improves a person’s physical health and mental outlook.
But without action, the LWCF will expire. If Congress does not renew this program – or reduces its funding – New Yorkers, and all Americans, will lose out. If you care about healthy lands and waters and the benefits they provide our communities, your congressional representatives need to hear from you.
Jim Howe is director of the Nature Conservancy's Central & Western New York Chapter.