Our Views: Conservation fund faces Congress _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Cousins Mason Mitchell, 4, left, and Cayden Juneau, 4, both of Carriere, Miss., play with the worms Saturday, June 7, 2014, during the 21st Annual Youth Fishing Event and Grand Opening of New Recreational Trail and Boardwalk at Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge.

Among the issues facing the new Congress is the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will go out of business this September if Congress doesn’t reauthorize it.

The fund, created 50 years ago, is financed mostly by fees paid to the federal government for oil and gas production. The fund provides matching grants to local communities for land and water recreation projects in both rural and urban areas. Louisiana has received approximately $205 million from the fund since its inception. The money has helped protect places such as the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve and the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge.

The fund also has supported improvements in many city parks throughout south Louisiana, including facilities in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette. Among the projects supported by the fund over the years has been a bike path along the lakes near LSU, the development of Annunciation Square in New Orleans and the creation of the Audubon Nature Center in Lafayette.

Outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver in Louisiana’s Sportsman’s Paradise. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation contributes more than $4.7 billion annually to the state’s economy, supports 48,000 jobs across the state and generates $225 million in state revenue.

Because sedentary lifestyles here and across the country have become a major health concern, promoting outdoor exercise is more important than ever. The Land and Water Conservation Fund’s support of parks and walking and biking trails has been a useful contribution to that goal.

Congress has diverted revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to other uses over the years, so the fund has never fully lived up to its promise. While Congress needs flexibility in setting budget priorities, these habitual diversions have a consequence, creating a backlog of conservation projects that compromise the nation’s stewardship of its outdoor spaces.

We hope that challenge gets a full airing as Congress considers reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund this year. In Louisiana, we have a big stake in ensuring that outdoor resources are preserved for future generations.