Deadline For Conservation Fund Approaching
A federal program that has helped preserve nature and the environment in Florida and across the country is set to expire this fall. It’s called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and it has been in force for over 50 years. The fund has been used to preserve natural areas, wildlife habitat, even Civil War battlefields from coast to coast.
"The federal government implemented it, it was actually during Lyndon Johnson's administration," said Preston Robertson, the chief operating officer and general counsel of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "(They) take the royalties that gas companies pay when they drill in federal waters, marine waters like off of Pensacola, and the thought was they'll take some of those royalties and put them to work for conservation all across the United States. And it has really been a bipartisan thing since there's no personal tax dollars involved in this at all."
Robertson says the fund is used to purchase land to expand or establish a park or refuge, and to improve those areas so more people can enjoy the land. None of the land is acquired through eminent domain, all the transactions are voluntary and initiated by the seller. He says one example of what the fund does is St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee. "Beautiful, beautiful place! (It has) a historic lighthouse and about 70,000 acres of protected land. That was funded in part by the (Land and Water Conservation Fund). There are (also) little tracts all across the panhandle (such as) boat ramps (and) historic sites, places that protect our heritage within the state."
The Florida Wildlife Federation is trying to get the word out that the fund needs to be renewed. It will sunset on September 30. And while there has never been a problem getting the fund renewed in past years, the current atmosphere in Washington has some conservationists worried. "There's so much antagonism, one side to the other, very little seems to get accomplished and we're running up against the deadline. (So) we need to remind the folks up there that this is important. As a matter of fact, there has been a bill sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats in the (US Senate) to make this a permanent fund, which would be great since we wouldn't have to go through this exercise again."
A website has been established to help Floridians and everyone else contact their elected officials and encourage them to support and renew the fund. That site is lwcfcoalition.com or lwcfcoalition.org, either one will work. Preston Robertson says it’s important for people to get involved. "We're going to lose what we've got unless we proactively try to secure (the land and water that) we've all enjoyed. You look at what's going on in South Florida now with the horrible algae blooms and the red tides. We need land to protect that water and the serve as recharge and clean that water from the pollution or we're going to keep seeing miles of dead fish. This is a way that people can actually help".
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1964. It has never been allowed to expire.