For the second year in a row, people who live near the U.S. Capitol are using a creative method to ask one of their neighbors, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, to better protect public lands. Nearly 150 Capitol Hill residents have put up lawn signs imploring Secretary Zinke to “Get With the Program” and save the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
“Secretary Zinke has been lucky enough to live near both the wide open spaces of Montana and our most sacred national monuments in D.C. Of all people, he should understand the importance of protecting our national treasures,” said Erik DuMont, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s public lands advocate. “Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, we lose a vital source of funding to preserve hiking trails, historic sites, battlefields, monuments, national parks and forests, and even soccer and baseball fields all over the country. Those things help make America great.”
Despite the popularity of the LWCF, Congress didn’t reauthorize the program before it expired September 30th. In both the House and Senate, committees have advanced bills that would permanently reauthorize the program, and the Senate version would fully fund it for the first time since the program was started.
Congress initially authorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964 to amass up to $900 million annually from revenues generated by offshore oil and gas leasing. The idea was to plow money that originated from an extractive industry back into conservation. Part of the money is disbursed for federal projects to agencies such as the National Park Service, or the National Forest Service, while part is also given to states and territories for everything from local public pools and ballfields to state parks and trails.
Secretary Zinke was a vocal supporter of the LWCF when he was a Congressman. However, as Secretary, despite saying he still supports LWCF, he defended a budget that slashed funding for LWCF to almost nothing.
“The Secretary advocating for a budget that cut LWCF funding down to almost zero sends the wrong message to Congress. We need him asking Congress to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the program,” said DuMont.
That’s where the lawn signs, which Zinke can’t miss, come in.
“Here in D.C., the Land and Water Conservation Fund supports my kids’ playgrounds and recreation centers, and also Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Rock Creek Park, and even Ford’s Theater,” said Rose Garr, a Capitol Hill resident. “We’re putting out a lawn sign to remind Secretary Zinke to tell Congress to keep this important program going.”
The window of opportunity to get a bill to the president’s desk is closing. Congress will return November 13th for only a few weeks, to take care of unfinished business before adjourning for the year.
“Every day LWCF isn’t reauthorized means less money for the Fund and for conservation projects,” said DuMont. “We need the Secretary to step up and pressure Congress to make sure this is a top priority right away.”