Opinion article by Michael Butler, CEO of Tennessee Wildlife Federation, as it appeared in Knoxville News Sentinel on May 8, 2017.
Two pieces of federal legislation take the rare long view concerning conservation here and across the nation. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is cosponsoring both bills, putting him—and by extension Tennessee—at the forefront of defending resources that benefit us and future generations.
Americans share ownership of more than 600 million acres of land and water in the United States. There are nearly 2.4 million acres of public land in Tennessee. This means roughly 10 percent of our state is conserved to safeguard special places and landscapes that provide wildlife habitat and places to recreate—from hunting and fishing to camping and canoeing.
Without these lands, wildlife would lose important areas they depends upon and hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans would lose access to the great outdoors. With natural resources contributing $30+ billion annually to our state’s economy, these lands are financially vital to Tennessee.
Despite these tangible benefits, funding for public lands is tenuous at best. Some leaders are changing that.
Established with bipartisan support in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) conserves natural areas and cultural heritage sites—most for the first time. The funds come from existing royalties derived from offshore oil and gas development.
It’s provided Tennessee $189 million, supporting projects such as Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area, and parts of Cherokee National Forest.
Congress allowed LWCF’s authorization to expire. It was renewed in 2015 for three years at $450 million. A 32 percent increase compared to the proceeding 10-year average. However, LWCF has only been fully funded ($900 million) twice.
The Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act, cosponsored by Sen. Alexander, will permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF. This will allow progress on the important work of conserving places so we can continue enjoying thriving natural resources.
Similarly, the National Park Service Legacy Act is meant to address chronic underfunding of what the early-1900s British Ambassador to the United States Lord James Bryce described as America’s “best idea.” There’s currently a $232 million maintenance backlog in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With four other national park service properties in Tennessee, this legislation is important to our state.
Upkeep of our national parks makes them accessible, provides habitat for wildlife and sustains the network of public lands that is the envy of much of the world.
Two generations ago, land and wildlife were devastated by overuse and exploitation. Today, we enjoy many plentiful resources—fishable streams, healthy wildlife populations, and lands to explore—that were alien to our grandparents. This is no accident. It’s the result of decades of deliberate actions taken by serious people who, like Sen. Alexander, choose to sustain what makes us naturally wealthy. Please take the time to ask your congressperson to join Sen. Alexander and support these efforts.