Opinion Editorial by Sara Green
Published in Spartanburg Herald-Journal on 9/22/19 - https://www.goupstate.com/opinion/20190922/green-lwcf-funding-makes-economic-sense
As temperatures begin to cool this fall, millions of South Carolinians are heading outdoors to enjoy hiking, hunting, camping, sporting events and many more activities that we have all come to enjoy. Much of this recreation takes place on public land — from city parks to national forests — and many of these places could not have been built or preserved without funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
This fund has helped create outdoor recreation spaces across the country for more than 50 years by using a portion of offshore oil and gas drilling fees to protect important land and water. These measures benefit all Americans by conserving not only local, state and national parks but also waterfronts; working forests, farms and ranches; fish and wildlife refuges; trail systems; and even playgrounds, ballfields and swimming pools.
Outdoor spaces in all 46 counties in South Carolina have benefited from LWCF funds — without using a single dime of taxpayer money. They include places such as Congaree National Park, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and Sumter National Forest as well as historically significant places such as Cowpens National Battlefield and Ninety Six National Historic Site.
Spartanburg County alone has benefited from more than $1.5 million in funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for 44 projects across the county. From Cleveland Park in downtown Spartanburg, to Croft State Park outside the city, to Va-Du-Mar McMillan Park in Boiling Springs, these protected areas for outdoor and wildlife enjoyment could only exist with funding from the LWCF.
However, funding for the LWCF is currently being debated in Congress. The fund is supposed to receive $900 million annually, but only twice in the fund’s 54-year history has Congress actually appropriated that full funding. In fact, over the past three years, the LWCF has received only half of the funding necessary to safeguard millions of acres of wildlife habitat for conservation and land that people across South Carolina use every day for hiking, cycling, hunting, birdwatching, fishing and many other forms of outdoor recreation.
Permanently funding the LWCF makes economic sense. Active outdoor recreation in South Carolina alone generates $16.3 billion annually in consumer spending. The 151,000 jobs based around eco-tourism in South Carolina create another $4.6 billion in wages and salaries and produce $1.1 billion annually in state and local tax revenue.
According to the U.S. Census, more than 893,000 people hunt, fish and watch wildlife each year in South Carolina, spending $2.5 billion on wildlife-related recreation. Many of the places where this recreation takes place is on LWCF-supported lands.
The South Carolina Wildlife Federation strongly supports permanent funding for this vital conservation program. As property becomes more and more developed — and climate change increases the frequency and intensity of droughts and wildfires — access to public lands can become more difficult through a checkerboard pattern between public and private lands. The LWCF’s funding is needed to purchase access points from willing landowners so all Americans can enjoy public natural areas.
Besides creating access points for recreation through boat ramps and hiking trails, the LWCF also has been used to purchase private inholdings in areas that act as key wildlife migration corridors — bringing together local, state and federal partners with private landowners to bridge these areas for wildlife movement. Piecing together fragmented wildlife habitat supports better land management coordination and encourages healthier habitat and wildlife populations, making for better sporting and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Earlier this year, Congress took the important step of reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now it must take the next logical step and ensure that it has permanent funding. We applaud Sen. Lindsey Graham for co-sponsoring a permanent funding bill. We urge him to work with his colleagues to make sure this popular, bipartisan program will be able to continue to protect our beautiful lands and waterfronts, our wildlife habitats and our outdoor recreation economy.
Please join me and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation in urging our entire delegation to vote for full and permanent funding for this most successful conservation fund.
Sara Green is the executive director of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.
Banner photo by Imtiaz Haque