Democrats and Republicans came together 50 years ago around a simple idea: As we use up one natural resource, use the resulting profits to protect another. It was a novel and forward-thinking concept that balanced the demands of energy and the environment. Thus was born the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which remains a benchmark of across-the-aisle cooperation, as well as a paragon of conservation.
For half a century, the fund has used revenues from the depletion of offshore oil and gas to preserve land and water resources, promote recreation, conserve open space and public lands, and protect natural and historic sites.
But today’s hyperpartisan Congress is threatening to undermine what the fund has accomplished, including more than $200 million in investments in Massachusetts. The program expires Sept. 30, and the Republican congressional leadership has shown no signs of movement on reauthorization. The fund appears to be yet another casualty of modern partisan politicking.
Nationally, the fund’s impact has been astounding. Allowing it to lapse would be damaging to the country. Since its inception, the fund has protected land in all 50 states, 98 percent of counties, and supported more than 41,000 state and local park projects. It does not cost a dime to American taxpayers and does not contribute to the federal deficit.
Instead, it drives money back to local economies. Over $3 billion in fund grants has led to more than $7 billion in nonfederal matching grants. According to a recent economic analysis, every fund dollar invested in public lands leads to four dollars in economic activity to local communities.
Massachusetts has benefited greatly. More than $218 million from the fund has gone to sites across the Commonwealth, including Lowell, Boston, and Adams National Historical Park, Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, and the Cape Cod National Seashore. If you’ve ever fished, hunted, hiked, or paddled in any of Massachusetts’ forests, lakes, or rivers, you’ve experienced the positive impact of the fund. For example, Varney Park in Chelmsford received almost $250,000 last year to renovate its playground, add ADA-compliant walkways, renovate its boat dock, and build a nature trail. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is an investment in a community’s quality of life.
One powerful local example of the fund’s integral conservation role was shown during the effort to save Barrett Farm House in Concord, one of America’s most important Revolutionary War landmarks. A senior officer in charge of military supplies for the region’s militia, Colonel James Barrett used his farm house to store weapons and equipment for up to 15,000 soldiers. The British were ordered to march from Boston to Concord to seize the munitions, triggering a string of well-known historic events, including Paul Revere’s ride. The British soldiers arrived in Concord, where a skirmish erupted, the “shot heard round the world’’ was fired, and the American Revolution began.
Barrett Farm’s place in American history is undeniable, but 10 years ago this historic landmark, built in 1705, was on the verge of collapse. Thanks to a concerted public/private partnership, the farmhouse was pristinely restored. LWCF funds allowed the National Park Service to acquire the farm and bring it into the boundaries of Minute Man National Historical Park.
The fund is one of America’s most effective tools for conservation, promoting outdoor recreation and economic growth. Dismantling this critical program would disadvantage communities around the country in real and significant ways.
US Representative Niki Tsongas represents Massachusetts’ third district.