Congress is considering a bill that would secure permanent and full federal funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a pot of money from offshore oil revenues used to protect the country’s natural parks.
Mike Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, says over the past 50 years, around $200 million from LWCF have gone toward helping Tennesseans conserve the state’s natural gems.
“That’s gone towards hiking and biking trails, ball fields, hunting access, historical battlefield sites, wildlife refuges and other public land acquisitions like the Appalachian Trail,” he points out.
Butler notes that while the fund is supposed to receive $900 million a year, only twice has Congress fully appropriated that amount.
The measure is headed toward a committee vote on Nov. 19.
It’s not just about natural beauty. Butler says protecting the state’s wildlife areas, parks and outdoor recreation spaces are valuable for Tennessee’s economy.
“They fuel about a $21 billion outdoor recreational economy in Tennessee supporting about 200,000 jobs, based on the research that we’ve seen,” he stresses.
Butler also adds in the face of a changing climate, natural areas, which do not require expensive maintenance or technologies, are the best buffer against the effects of climate change.
“And so, as we look to try to protect land, or put it into a public ownership category, we think that those things can be done strategically, where they have a lot of public support, and can create a lot of public benefit,” he states.
A study published earlier this year found that between 2001 and 2017, a total of 24 million acres, roughly equivalent to nine Grand Canyon National Parks or 49 Great Smoky Mountain National Parks, were lost to development in the U.S.