[LBJ Library photo by Robert Knudsen. #D2624-7A]

[LBJ Library photo by Robert Knudsen. #D2624-7A]

Still Time for a Conservation Legacy

Sep 01, 2014

Wednesday is the 50th birthday of two of the nation’s most important environmental statutes: the Wilderness Act and the law establishing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For those with long memories, it also commemorates a time when Congress could act productively in a bipartisan spirit that yielded not only these two laws but, within a few short years, landmark protections for clean air, clean water and endangered species.

The Wilderness Act was designed to preserve the remaining wild places in America from any form of development, providing the highest level of protection accorded any federal lands. President Lyndon Johnson set aside the first nine million acres when he signed the bill on Sept. 3, 1964, and Congress has since protected about 100 million more. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, meanwhile, has invested billions of dollars in buying up smaller parcels of open space, which the United States is losing at a rate of about 6,000 acres a day. Much of this land has been given over to states and cities for recreational purposes.

Neither law is getting the support it deserves from Congress. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is paid for by royalties from offshore oil production, and thus does not cost the taxpayer a dime. But Congress has rarely financed the program at its authorized level of $900 million, providing as little as $150 million in the mid-1990s and using the unappropriated funds for deficit reduction. The hope this year is for $300 million. read more