Other Opinions

Congress needs to permanently fund land and water program to conserve public places

Walkers using the Eaton Trail near Woodward Park are framed by storm clouds on a March afternoon.
Walkers using the Eaton Trail near Woodward Park are framed by storm clouds on a March afternoon. Fresno Bee file photo

Have you visited Woodward Park recently? The 300-acre park in Northeast Fresno is beloved by neighbors and visitors from all over the county who come to connect with nature and watch people connect with each other. Runners and cyclists traverse scenic trails along the San Joaquin River, as couples relax and enjoy the warm weather. Kids climb on playgrounds, pups run and play at the dog park, and families throw picnics and BBQs to celebrate special occasions.

The benefits of this special park exist thanks to a little known, but important federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It was started 50 years ago with a simple yet brilliant goal: take money from oil and gas drilling and put it toward the conservation of America’s public lands, parks and other outdoor places.

Mary Creasman
Mary Creasman of the California League of Conservation Voters. Courtesy of California League of Conservation Voters

Each year, oil and gas leasing revenue generates $900 million in royalties for this fund. This money is meant to protect our parks and rivers, build baseball fields, improve our hiking trails and more. And since the funds come from leasing revenues, these improvements are done at no expense to taxpayers. Woodward Park, for example, has received $560,000 over the years; these funds have gone toward improving playgrounds, picnic areas, and restrooms.

East of Fresno, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are also great examples of LWCF at work. Visitors to these parks come to hike, camp and see the world’s largest trees. Over the years, the fund has helped purchase privately owned lands from willing sellers within and around national parks so that the public has better access to these natural wonders.

Whether in Fresno or in the giant sequoias, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has played an important role in protecting our parks. And, these places improve the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Research has shown that trees take harmful pollution out of the air, reduce asthma rates in children, and also help lower the temperature. Woodward Park, for example, is the only regional park of its size in the Central Valley. Its many trees help filter the air that Fresno residents breathe on a daily basis. Urban parks like Woodward will be even more important as we continue to grapple with rising temperatures and increased air pollution.

And, the snow pack and rivers on our protected public lands — places like Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks — are important sources of clean drinking water. A web of rivers run through these parks, carrying water down from the Sierra Nevada to communities in the Central Valley. The snow pack and protected headwaters of rivers in the Sierra provide a natural form of water storage, and Sierra forests and meadows play a role in ensuring water quality and reliability for millions of Californians in Fresno and elsewhere. When it comes to keeping our air and water sources pure, there’s simply no substitute for the cleaning systems of the natural world. That’s why it’s so important we keep investing in them, and for our leaders to recognize the importance of doing so.

Recently, newly elected Congressman TJ Cox helped champion an effort to permanently reauthorize LWCF. I’m grateful that Congressman Cox made this successful effort among his top priorities just months after taking office.

Already we are seeing the impact of having an advocate like TJ Cox in public office. He campaigned about the importance of clean air and clean water; now, he’s putting words into action and delivering for the people he represents with his support of our parks and LWCF.

However, there’s still a piece of the puzzle missing for LWCF. Every year, Congress can decide how much money to allocate to the program. That means that it hasn’t received enough funding to fulfill its mission. Going through this process every year is unnecessary and should be remedied, which is why there’s a movement to fully and permanently fund LWCF.

As a leader on the House Natural Resources Committee, Congressman Cox has been a leader in this effort. I urge him to continue championing America’s best investment in our parks, clean air and water. These investments are necessary to prepare for the future.

Mary Creasman is the chief executive officer of the California League of Conservation Voters.