LWCF, Expired

On October 1, Congress allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire. Why does that matter? In Arizona alone, we’ll lose millions in federal funds for outdoor recreation and conservation. Our friends from Trout Unlimited shared a statement from Brad Powell, the president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation. We’re sharing it, in turn, here, along with the remainder of Trout Unlimited’s release.

“Its hard to understand how a program that has strong bipartisan support and has provided over $235 million for outdoor recreation and conservation in Arizona was not reauthorized,” Powell said. “Americans lose over $15 million weekly of funds that would be available for local community parks and the conservation of public lands. It’s time for Congress to permanently reauthorize the program and provide for full funding.”

The benefits of the LWCF program can be found in virtually every community in our state. Access and recreation opportunities have been enhanced at Grand Canyon National Park, Saguaro National Park, Lake Mead Recreation area, Coconino National Forest, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Hundreds of additional recreation projects have occurred in our state and community parks in nearly every community in Arizona.

For more than 50 years, the LWCF has delivered on-the-ground conservation achievements to communities across our state. In particular, benefits to rural America and the small communities that depend upon the hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation economy for economic development depend on this key program. In addition, urban opportunities to get our youth outdoors will suffer significant losses without the reauthorization of the program. Outdoor recreation supports 210,000 jobs, generates $5.7 billion in wages and salaries and produces $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenues. More than 1.5 million people participate in hunting, fishing and wildlife watching in Arizona, and they contribute over $2.1 billion to the state’s economy.

LWCF is not funded by taxpayer dollars, but from fees collected from offshore oil and gas extraction. Let’s not break the 50-year-old promise to the American people to invest a small portion of these royalties to enhance our national parks, state parks, community recreation programs, hunting and fishing access, trails and open spaces. Please thank Congressman Raul Grijalva for his leadership on this key issue and contact your Congressional representative to ask for their support of the permanent reauthorization and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Zinke has ‘no intention’ of revisiting Grand Canyon uranium mining ban

WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has “no intention to revisit uranium mining” in and around the Grand Canyon, his spokeswoman said, after outdoorsmen’s groups launched a campaign urging him to keep a 20-year mining moratorium in place.

Advocates said they were worried the Trump administration was moving toward lifting a 2012 mining ban on 1 million acres of federal land around the canyon, but Zinke’s spokeswoman said in an email Monday that the secretary has no interest in doing that and “has made exactly zero moves to suggest otherwise.”

Mining opponents welcomed the news, but said Tuesday they still plan to be on their guard.

“People are behind protecting Grand Canyon, and I hope that citizens continue to make their voices heard, so that Department of Interior continues to protect this region, and so that the mining companies are aware of how important this place is to so many people,” said Alicyn Gitlin, conservation coordinator at the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Scott Garlid said one of the first things that went through his head after hearing Zinke’s position was, “‘Good, we got their attention,’ because we’ve been asking this question and have gotten no response.”

Garlid is conservation director for the Arizona Wildlife Federation, one of two groups behind billboards that went up Monday in the Phoenix area, addressed to Zinke and urging him to “save the Grand Canyon from uranium mining.”
Then-Secretary Ken Salazar in 2012 imposed a 20-year moratorium on hard-rock mining, which includes uranium, on lands near the Grand Canyon. The moratorium was supposed to allow for further study of the environmental and health impacts of mining in the canyon region.

But mine opponents feared the Trump administration might be looking to lift the ban after uranium, in response to an executive order from President Donald Trump, was identified as one of 35 minerals critical to the nation’s security and economy. They also pointed to renewed calls from lawmakers, businesses and local government officials for the administration to review and possibly reverse “withdrawals” from mining imposed under the Obama administration.

That led to the billboards by the Arizona Wildlife Federation and the state chapter of Trout Unlimited.

But Zinke’s spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said the department was “disappointed to see such a tremendous waste of precious conservation dollars” by the groups.

“The Secretary has no intention to revisit uranium mining in and around the canyon and has made exactly zero moves to suggest otherwise,” she said in a statement Monday.

The advocates were pleased, but said the moratorium is just one thing needed for the region.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said he wants to see a long-term commitment to a scientific study of the environmental and health impacts of uranium mining in the region.

“I am pleased to see the Department of Interior has decided to continue protecting and preserving the Grand Canyon Withdrawal Area and surrounding areas by not pursuing uranium mining in northern Arizona,” O’Halleran said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

“This mining and milling has had a lasting, toxic impact on the health of families and water and food quality throughout region. These communities cannot afford the impact continued mining would have,” he said.
Gitlin agreed, saying a major reason for that mining moratorium was “there was so much unknown about the effects of mining on the Grand Canyon region.”

“That science has largely been defunded, and so I would love to see the department say that they would be willing to actually fund the science and really learn about the region while we still have this mineral withdrawal in effect,” she said.

But O’Halleran said it’s time for Congress to act.

“We have an obligation to address the longstanding health issues created by this activity once and for all,” he said.

Garlid was not able to say Tuesday how much it cost to put up the billboards, which will be up for another two months. But he said it was money well-spent, saying they have already drawn a “fair amount of response.”

“We have added (about) 200 signatures in the last 24 hours,” Garlid said. “People are taking interest. It’s having the desired effect so far.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Arizona could lose millions without federal grant program for outdoor recreation

APACHE JUNCTION – A federal fund that has brought millions of dollars to Arizona over the years for national parks, trail maintenance, even community swimming pools, expired Sept. 30. That could jeopardize future outdoor projects funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund if Congress doesn’t act.
Lost Dutchman State Park, nestled at the base of the Superstition Mountains, is one of the places that has received grants from the fund to maintain trails. It’s where Richard Bruner, a retired Floridian, enjoys hiking.

“When you get higher up, you can hear the wind blow. When there’s nobody around, there’s no sounds. There’s nothing like that.”
In Arizona, which relies heavily on tourism dollars to boost its economy, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been a windfall for cash-strapped recreational areas, giving more than $830,000 to Lost Dutchman and about $235 million to the state over the past 53 years, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

Where the fund stands
Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1965. Money from the fund, which comes from the revenue from offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, goes toward such uses as state and national parks, swimming pools and community centers.
Historically, the fund had bipartisan support because taxpayer dollars aren’t used. But because the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department can dip into the fund to purchase property, some in Congress believe the program gives too much money to federal agencies and not enough to state and local governments.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, is one of those lawmakers. He wrote an op-ed piece in Politico after trying to kill the fund’s reauthorization in 2015, citing “fundamental flaws” in the way the fund operates.

“Because states know best the needs of the people in their communities, the original 1965 law required that states receive the lion’s share of funding from the (Land and Water Conservation Fund),” Bishop wrote. “Unfortunately, the stateside program has been gradually crowded out over the years by the federal government’s powerful drive to acquire more and more land.”

But in mid-September, Bishop cut a surprise deal with Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, who had in 2017 proposed a bill to permanently reauthorize the fund. Their deal requires 40 percent of the fund to go to individual states and another 40 percent to the federal government, with the rest available for state and federal projects.
Bishop said the compromise isn’t perfect, but he called it an improvement over previous versions of the fund, which focused money on land acquisition by the federal government.

Grijalva said he supports the fund because of its broad reach and ability to bring the outdoors to people who may not be able to get out of the city. Cities across Arizona use fund money to maintain parks and other recreational areas.

“The state doesn’t have the money,” Grijalva said. “Local cities and communities are barely keeping up with the demands they have, and so there’s no supplement for them.”

The House Natural Resource Committee passed Grijalva’s bill, but it still has to be approved by Congress.

Nathan Rees, the Arizona coordinator for the wildlife advocacy group Trout Unlimited, and other conservationists were optimistic Congress would act before the Sunday deadline.The federal government will continue to collect revenue from oil and gas production even though the fund has expired. The money will be pooled in a general fund available to other congressional programs.
“Projects that are already in the pipeline to receive (Land and Water Conservation Fund) funding, they’ll get that funding,” Rees said. “But anything in the future isn’t going to receive any (fund) dollars. The money just gets siphoned right into the Treasury and who knows what happens then. It’s as good as gone.”

What the dollars mean in Arizona
Projects in Arizona have received about $235 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund over the past 53 years, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. In addition to maintaining state parks like Lost Dutchman, it funded community pools like the Palo Verde Swimming Pool in Tucson, which received $29,000 in 1966, and the Tempe Sports Complex, which got $500,000 in 2002.

On Sept. 18 , Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that Arizona would receive $2 million from the fund for recreation and conservation projects identified by the state.

Arizona government organizations use the funds in a variety of ways, said Meagan Fitzgerald with the Arizona Wildlife Federation, a group dedicated to protecting wildlife habitats.

“It’s helped protect places like the Grand Canyon National Park, the Saguaro National Park, Lake Mead Recreation Area,” she said. “They’ve even helped with keeping the lights on at some recreation parks.”

The broad appeal of the fund
At Eldorado Park in Scottsdale, Rees pointed to the lake, a defining feature of the park. It was constructed in 1972 using about $73,000 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Stocked every few months with sunfish, trout and catfish, the lake provides a fishing spot nestled in the city.

“(The fund) really just gets its fingers into every aspect of the community and can really appeal to everyone,” Rees said. “We’ve had the opportunity to hunt and fish and recreate in all these great outdoor spaces, and we want our kids and our grandkids to experience that same thing.”

Garett Reppenhagen, who served in the U.S. Army as a cavalry/scout sniper in the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, knows this well.