Sen. Maria Cantwell speaks about the impact of the expired Land and Water Conservation Fund on Washington state. Her legislation to permanently reauthorize the fund passed the Senate with bipartisan support. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Sen. Maria Cantwell speaks about the impact of the expired Land and Water Conservation Fund on Washington state. Her legislation to permanently reauthorize the fund passed the Senate with bipartisan support. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Cantwell, DelBene lead rally for national conservation, recreation program

The legislation has now been passed by the Senate and House, and is headed to the president’s desk.

Outdoor enthusiasts and public land advocates gathered on Feb. 21 in Sand Point to hear from Sen. Maria Cantwell and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene on the U.S. government’s plan to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has helped to preserve natural areas around the country and fund local park projects.

On the Eastside, LWCF grants have gone to Inspiration Playground in Bellevue, Marina Park in Kirkland, Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore and the North Creek Forest in Bothell.

The LWCF expired last September after a brief three-year extension in 2015. Cantwell has been working since then to secure funding for it, teaming up with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska.

Their Senate bill (S. 47 — the Natural Resources Management Act, also known as the “Murkowski-Cantwell lands package”) was the largest bipartisan package of public lands bills assembled by Congress in more than a decade, and includes permanent reauthorization of the LWCF.

“It truly was a package of legislation, I think maybe from all 50 states,” Cantwell said. “There was a lot of land policy to work out, and I do think that is why we have a lot of support.”

It passed the Senate with a 92-8 vote on Feb. 12. The rally was held to encourage the House of Representatives to pass it as well, which they did on Feb. 26 with a vote of 363-62. The bill now heads to the president’s desk.

“There’s nothing better than just being outdoors, and it’s such an important part of our Northwest culture,” Cantwell said on Feb. 21. “Fighting to preserve it, and fighting to preserve this tool, has been a huge honor.”

DelBene applauded Cantwell for “addressing the need for preserving our natural environment and combating climate change,” noting that the bill had strong support in the Democrat-controlled House.

The LWCF has invested $675 million in more than 600 projects in Washington, including popular recreation sites like Olympic National Park, Lake Chelan, Gas Works Park and Riverside State Park.

Since being established by Sen. Scoop Jackson in 1965, the LWCF has become a key component of the outdoor recreation economy, which Cantwell said is now the third largest economy in the U.S., behind health care and finance. Outdoor recreation contributes $26 billion in annual spending and more than 200,000 direct jobs to Washington state.

The LWCF is a conservation tool that ensures states and federal public land management agencies are able to protect and conserve natural resources, by taking revenue from oil and gas royalties and directing them toward a fund that gives grants to federal, state and local conservation projects.

A statement from The Nature Conservancy recognized the LWCF as “the country’s most important conservation program, and it costs not one cent of taxpayer money.” The LWCF’s portion of offshore drilling fee revenues “is then used to conserve our country’s most beloved lands and waters – whether they are iconic landscapes or tiny neighborhood playgrounds,” according to the group.

“This approval was years in the making,” stated Mike Stevens, Washington state director for The Nature Conservancy. “The leadership and support of our state’s entire Congressional delegation shows that nature unites us. No matter who you are, or what you like to do outside, public lands are a vital part of our lives.”

The Nature Conservancy sent supporters to the rally, along with other organizations, including Conservation Northwest, the Wilderness Society, the Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Trails Association and more. Other speakers included Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Outdoor Research CEO Dan Nordstrom, Tom Vogl of the Mountaineers and Jim Whittaker, the first American to ascend Mt. Everest.

“What’s more important to the planet than land and water?” Whittaker asked the crowd. “When you stand up high and there’s no life — no oxygen to support life — and you look at the planet, you realize, we’re so damned lucky to be here.”

DelBene said the LWCF has supported nautral areas in other parts of the 1st Congressional District, including Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest, Ross Lake and the North Cascades. Durkan said the fund also helps more urban areas. It has contributed $72 million in matching grants for close-to-home parks and recreation.

“This will also help us in places like Discovery Park, South Lake Union Park… right here in Magnuson Park,” Durkan said. “We know you don’t have to get out of Seattle to enjoy the outdoors.”

The LWCF isn’t the only thing in Cantwell’s package that will affect her state. It will establish the Mountain to Sound National Heritage Area along the Interstate 90 corridor, opening up federal funding opportunities in the region. It will also address water challenges in the Yakima Valley, and make Washington’s Methow Valley permanently off-limits to industrial-scale mining and exploration.

“That’s why we fought so hard on telling the story of the economic value of the outdoor economy and building that coalition,” Cantwell said. “It was worth millions of dollars to preserve the recreational economy of Methow, more than a mining opportunity that would come and go in a very short period of time.”

The bill also will encourage the use of new technology for fighting wildfires, create a volcano early warning system and give Seattle’s Nordic Museum a national designation.

Megan Birzell, Washington State director of The Wilderness Society, stated that the “bill is bipartisan recognition of the importance of the outdoors and ensuring we all have access to places to play and explore.”

The funds will be used to “protect wild places,” as well as support “projects that can help address inequities in nearby parks and open space that currently exist for many communities, ensuring everyone can enjoy the outdoors,” she added.

Rep. Suzan DelBene, who represents Washington’s 1st congressional district, explains how the Land and Water Conservation Fund adds billions in spending and thousands of jobs to the outdoor economy. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Rep. Suzan DelBene, who represents Washington’s 1st congressional district, explains how the Land and Water Conservation Fund adds billions in spending and thousands of jobs to the outdoor economy. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Suzan DelBene shake hands with outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists before a rally to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund in Seattle on Feb. 21. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Suzan DelBene shake hands with outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists before a rally to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund in Seattle on Feb. 21. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan explains how the Land and Water Conservation Fund also helps urban areas. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan explains how the Land and Water Conservation Fund also helps urban areas. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Sen. Maria Cantwell mingles with supporters after her rally on Feb. 21, including Jim Whittaker, the first American to ascend Mt. Everest. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Sen. Maria Cantwell mingles with supporters after her rally on Feb. 21, including Jim Whittaker, the first American to ascend Mt. Everest. Katie Metzger/staff photo

More in News

Photo courtesy of City of Mercer Island
                                A cougar was captured by security footage on Aug. 5.
WDFW: Mercer Island cougar sighting ‘not unheard of’

The animal has not been spotted since the initial report was made

Stephanie Quiroz/staff photos
                                Covenant Living at the Shores residents and staff with Ageless Aviation pilot and team at the Renton Municipal Airport on Aug. 12.
Covenant Living at the Shores Residents take flight

Tom Norris, Sid Boegl, Doug Wilkinson, and Jack Nelson take flight in a 1942 Boeing Stearman.

The map shows ten areas of Mercer Island that require critical infrastructure and resources, should a natural disaster occur. Photo courtesy of the city of Mercer Island
Preparing for “the really big one” in a city surrounded by water

The Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan covers nearly 60 planning partners, including Mercer Island.

Photo courtesy of Juliana Kang Robinson
                                Juliana Kang Robinson’s public artwork, “Alone Together.”
MI artist completes Seattle public artwork

Juliana Kang Robinson designed the new artwalk intersection University and 1st Avenue near Harbor Steps and the Seattle Art Museum.

Dr. Richard Repass is the owner and medical director of Revolution Psychiatry. He has spent the last decade caring for patients who struggle with mental health illnesses and substance use disorders. Photo courtesy of Richard Repass
A new psychiatry clinic offers natural, alternative methods of detox various disorders

Revolution Psychiatry helps patients suffering with alcoholism or drug abuse, among other disorders.

The French American School of Puget Sound moved to Mercer Island in 1999 and took over the old fire station just north of the Stroum Jewish Community Center property. Madeline Coats/staff photo
Planning for the Community Facility Zone is paused after community expresses concern

Next steps for the zoning effort will be discussed on Aug. 20.

Mercer Island’s new rules for tree retention in full effect

New criteria must be met before a tree is removed outside of development.

A full room of Mercer Island residents questioned candidates running for City Council Pos. 7 and School Board Pos. 5. Madeline Coats/staff photo
Incumbent Bertlin and Jacobson leading Mercer council race

4,914 ballots were returned out of 18,197 registered voters in Mercer Island.

Most Read