Land and Conservation Fund That Helped Improve the OC Coast is Now in Limbo

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Though a U.S. Senate panel has a hearing scheduled today regarding the re-authorization of the Land and Conservation Fund that has improved recreational areas across the country, including trails and beaches in Huntington Beach and San Onofre, the 50-year-old program will remain in limbo until after the November elections.

Congress failed to reauthorize the legislation that has bipartisan support by a Sunday deadline, and even if the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee votes today to permanently fund and reauthorize it, the House remains on recess until after the Nov. 6 midterms. 

The Land and Conservation Fund, which a recent California League of Conservation Voters poll found enjoyed “overwhelming bipartisan support,” protected public lands and waters, improved public access and recreational amenities and helped fuel the outdoor recreation and tourism throughout the country, according to boosters.

In Huntington Beach, the LWCF provided more than $1 million in federal funding to parks and recreation trails that 11 million visitors explore and enjoy annually. This includes the Huntington Beach Recreation Trail, which is more than 36 miles of bike, foot and horse trails, and Huntington State Beach roads, trails, parking, lighting, public access, showers, restrooms, swimming facilities, a concession building and a handicapped ramp.

In 1972, San Onofre State Beach received more than $71,000 in LWCF funds to support improvements to California’s fifth most visited state park, which attracts more than 2.5 million people annually. That state park also contains sacred Native American sites and is a refuge for 12 threatened and endangered species.

Over the past five decades, California has received $2.447 billion in LWCF funding to protect Joshua Tree National Park, Golden Gate Park, Lake Tahoe, Sequoia National Park, Redwood National Park and many more.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected some of California’s most beloved local parks and iconic landscapes for more than 50 years, from the majestic Sierra Nevada to our pristine coastline,” says Howard Penn, executive director of the California Planning and Conservation League. “Despite overwhelming bipartisan and local support, Congress has let LWCF expire. We demand that our leaders in Congress re-authorize and fully fund LWCF immediately. They must correct this failure, so that our outdoor recreation economy may thrive and future generations may have an opportunity to explore all that California has to offer.”

Department of the Interior data shows that the fund helped more than 40,000 state projects totaling 2.37 million acres protected and it used $3.9 billion in state grants.

Outdoor Industry Association

The Outdoor Industry Association was joined by more than 280 other outdoor-focused businesses in sending a letter to Congress urging them to fully fund the LWCF.

“We are extremely disappointed that Congress is letting one of the most popular and bipartisan programs which supports our nation’s public lands and outdoor recreation opportunities expire before the November elections,” says Amy Roberts, the OIA’s executive director.

While Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has framed investing in the LWCF and a backlog of National Park Service maintenance projects as an either/or choice, the budget from President Trump’s appointee recommended zeroing out the LWCF while at the same time proposing a new fund to pay for infrastructure in national parks.

In the meantime, “The expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is a huge loss for anyone who loves the coast,” according to Pete Stauffer, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation, whose national office is headquartered in San Clemente.

“For over 50 years, the program has protected some of our nation’s best coastal lands and waters,” Stauffer adds. “The Surfrider Foundation calls upon members of Congress to immediately reinstate the Land and Water Conservation Fund by supporting bipartisan legislation to permanently reauthorize the program.”

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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