Other Views

Tell Congress to renew crucial conservation fund

A heron glides over the top of a marsh on Lady’s Island.
A heron glides over the top of a marsh on Lady’s Island. Staff file

For more than 50 years, The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has worked in concert with other federal, state and local efforts to protect land in our national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands. It has preserved working forests, ranches, Civil War battlefields and other historic sites. It has also supported state and local parks and playgrounds, providing badly needed funds for communities to need to meet their conservation and recreational needs.

Through the LWCF, a portion of royalties paid by offshore oil and gas drillers has been set aside to protect natural areas and develop outdoor recreation opportunities.

Some $294 million in funding has gone to projects in South Carolina alone.

In Beaufort County, the LCWF has supported work at Hunting Island State Park, other parks and recreational facilities in Beaufort, Hilton Head Island and Port Royal, as well as fishing and boating areas throughout the county.

Unfortunately, the LWCF was allowed to expire on Sept. 30 when no agreement was reached on its reauthorization. Congress will need to act during the Lame Duck session if the fund is to continue.

Fortunately, there is strong bipartisan support for renewal: the current House bill has 240 co-sponsors, including 46 Republicans; the Senate bill has 46 co-sponsors, including six Republicans. Rep. Mark Sanford and Sen. Lindsey Graham are among those who have expressed support for renewal.

Despite its popular appeal, we cannot take the reauthorization for granted as Congress grapples with multiple spending priorities ahead of the next federal budget deadline of Dec. 7.

Join us in urging Congress to restore this vital conservation program and grant it permanent reauthorization so that our nation’s most critical conservation funding tool has a permanent source of revenue.

From those with a rod and reel to those with binoculars in hand, we are privileged to live in a state where the opportunities to enjoy nature are so abundant.

Enjoyment of the outdoors is also big business. The outdoor industry in South Carolina generates more than $16 billion a year in revenues and supports more than 150,000 jobs.

Protection of our natural resources must be a priority as we seek to attract both new and repeat visitors to our beaches, parks, hiking trails and historical sites.

The other day, I walked through a woodland preserve on Hilton Head and delighted as the treetops came alive with the sights and sounds of a large flock of migrating American robins stopping for food and water. My spirit awakens every time I see a great blue heron rise from the blues and greens of a Lowcountry marsh. The once-endangered bald eagle is thriving again and can be seen almost every day patrolling for fish on Port Royal Sound. This is what we are seeking to protect.

Like-minded conservationists in Beaufort County overwhelmingly voted “yes” on November’s referendum to continue funding our Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program. Reauthorization of the LWCF would give our local officials another powerful tool to protect and enhance the natural assets that make Beaufort County a special place to live.

John Bloomfield is vice president of the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society and a member of the Audubon South Carolina advisory board.