From the dramatic landscapes and towering canopies of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, to local sites like Lake Ming and Heritage Park right here in Bakersfield, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been vital to conserving open spaces and improving outdoor recreation opportunities for communities across California for over 50 years.
This storied program, which protects irreplaceable federal lands and has supported over 41,000 state and local park projects across the country, is set to expire next month unless Congress takes immediate action to save it. With the future of California’s most iconic landscapes and waterways at stake, voters in the 23rd congressional district are depending on U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy to join forces with other congressional leaders to permanently re-authorize and fully fund America’s most important conservation and recreation program.
As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast and 43-year career veteran of the National Park Service, I have had the privilege of both recreating at and managing some of the most spectacular resources protected by LWCF, including Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Whether helping to conserve our world-class national public lands, or improving unique recreational areas like Kern River State Park where our families go to camp and kayak, LWCF has had a massive positive impact on communities in the Central Valley and across California -- and all at zero cost to American taxpayers. Instead, LWCF uses a small percentage of federal offshore drilling fees to fund these important land improvement and conservation initiatives that we all benefit from.
In addition to protecting public lands across the state, LWCF has also become a key component of California’s massive outdoor recreation economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation activities contribute a staggering $92 billion annually to the state economy and support more than 690,000 jobs that are the lifeblood of local communities like Bakersfield. This economic powerhouse also generates $6.2 billion in state and local tax revenue that funds our public schools and the vital social programs our communities rely on.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon alone draw 1.2 million visitors annually to Tulare County and generate around $95.9 million in consumer spending that supports local families and businesses.
Representative McCarthy must also consider that without LWCF, our children may not have the same opportunities we had to explore the wild places we love. Over its lifetime, LWCF has given Californians the opportunity to make memories hiking, swimming, hunting, boating, and doing a host of other outdoor activities. In fact, Kern, Los Angeles, and Tulare counties alone have received over $63 million dollars in direct LWCF funding that protects public lands throughout the 23rd congressional district and gives our families access to the great outdoors. We all share a moral obligation to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to explore all the lands, waters, and wildlife this great country has to offer.
For years, LWCF has received widespread bipartisan support. In fact, current legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives to permanently reauthorize LWCF has 232 co-sponsors from boths sides of the aisle. Sadly, Rep. McCarthy’s name is not among this bipartisan group of lawmakers who understand that saving LWCF is not about politics, but rather the places we treasure as Californians and the livelihoods of members of our community that depend on the outdoor recreation economy for their livelihoods.
With less than a month left until LWCF expires, it is my hope that Rep. McCarthy will listen to the voices of his constituents and do everything is his power to protect their land and water. It is past time for our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. to collectively stand up for communities across the country who agree that permanently reauthorizing and fully funding LWCF is essential to our way of life.
Dick Martin is a retired National Park Service Park Ranger and Superintendent with over 43 years of experience at multiple duty stations in Washington and California. Dick was the Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks from 2001-2005.