Having just observed Veterans Day, I’d like to give a shout-out to an unlikely government program that has profoundly impacted military veterans and their families. I’m talking about the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has helped create and support parks, wildlife refuges and outdoor recreation spaces all across this nation. I’m a Vietnam veteran and I know firsthand the healing and restorative powers that can be experienced on our nation’s cherished public lands. I know there are thousands of other veterans out there just like me who have also found solace in experiencing all that these lands have to offer.
For 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped maintain outdoor recreation spaces in nearly every county in America. Here in Louisiana, it has supported such places as the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park, Lake Claiborne State Park and the Atchafalaya and Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuges.
Often called America’s best conservation fund, it has made it possible for me to hunt, camp and canoe all across our beautiful state. Now in my retirement years, it’s fostered a love of birding, which I do with unbridled passion. I’m grateful that LWCF has supported the Kistachie National Forest, which has provided a home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. LWCF has also supported the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, where I saw a Great Kiskadee flycatcher.
I could go on for hours talking about the birds I’ve spotted or the other ways in which LWCF has brought some joy into my life, but these places don’t just offer veterans a physical outlet for letting off steam, they can also provide jobs. Active outdoor recreation in Louisiana has created 103,000 jobs which generate $3.4 billion in wages and salaries, and produces $893 million annually in state and local tax revenue. Those are economic numbers that benefit all of us.
Earlier this year, Congress voted to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now Congress is poised to take the next necessary step to permanently fund it. LWCF is entitled to receive $900 million dollars every year but only twice in its 54-year history has Congress ever appropriated the full amount.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy sits on the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. I urge him to support public lands and support veterans by voting for the Land and Water Conservation permanent funding bill.