House Restores Ag Conservation Funding, Action on LWCF, New Listening Sessions
Happy Independence Day! While there's been little progress on the enhanced easement incentive (see last week's alert), there have been promising developments related to conservation funding this week, and new America's Great Outdoors listening sessions have been announced.
House Ag Subcommittee Restores Conservation Funds, Future Years at Risk
As reported on February 5th, President Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request asked Congressional appropriators to withhold nearly $1 billion of the conservation program funding that had been promised in the 2008 Farm Bill. Thus we're absolutely thrilled that the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has approved a bill that allows full funding for most conservation programs! This is an early, but important, step in the lengthy Appropriations process.
Under the House bill, the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) would receive a record $175 million and the acreage caps for the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) would not be reduced. The panel also rejected a proposed elimination of the Resource Conservation and Development Program.
It was not an easy task to come up with this funding, so we all owe a huge thank you to Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and all members of the Subcommittee (listed here). If you live or work in one of their districts, please call (via the Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121) and say thank you!
Future conservation funding is also threatened by House and Senate proposals that would reduce it to provide additional funding for nutrition programs. As important as the nutrition programs are, we believe that funding should not come at the expense of important conservation. This week the Alliance signed on to a letter urging the House Agriculture Committee to reject these cuts.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was set up in the 1960's to take a portion of the revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing and reinvest them in onshore conservation. It has been an important source of funding for federal and state acquisitions of land and easements. Though it receives $900 million a year from energy royalties, Congressional appropriators have consistently withheld much of that funding, shortchanging the program by some $17 billion over the past 46 years!
The Alliance has two goals for LWCF: to see the money going into the fund actually dedicated to conservation, and to allow the fund to be used to support acquisitions of easements and land by land trusts. Working through land trusts could allow LWCF to leverage landowner donations and other funding sources to achieve far more conservation--just consider the 14 different funding sources leveraged by Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust in this week's 19,000 acre Sommers Grindstone Conservation Project. Greater availability of LWCF funds for private conservation could leverage private support for that kind of project all around the country!
On Wednesday, in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) offered an amendment to oil spill legislation that would have provided full funding for LWCF. While the amendment did not come up for a vote, Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) reiterated his support for dedicated funding, and others including Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) spoke passionately about the need for a dedicated source of conservation funding.
This amendment may come up again, when the full Senate takes up oil spill response legislation. Now is a great time to prepare for that by asking your Senators to demonstrate their support by co-sponsoring S. 2747, the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act, introduced by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Max Baucus (D-MT). Click here for current co-sponsors.
On the House side, the Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on its own oil spill-related energy bill (the CLEAR Act, H.R. 3534) which includes a provision for full and dedicated funding of LWCF. In his opening remarks Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) celebrated LWCF and was echoed by other members of the Committee. In response to their questions, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar spoke at length about the central importance of LWCF as a keystone of a revived commitment to conservation and recreation. If your Rep. is a member of the Natural Resources Committee (listed here), please call and urge them to support Title IV of the CLEAR Act (the LWCF funding provision).
Click here for a fact sheet on these bills from the LWCF Coalition. The legislative picture on energy legislation is extremely fluid at the moment, but we will keep you informed.
America's Great Outdoors Listening Sessions in Davis & Asheville, IdeaJam Update
We hope you'll attend and speak at one of the upcoming America’s Great Outdoors listening sessions:
- California: July 7 in Davis (announcement & talking points) and July 8 in Los Angeles (announcement & talking points)
- North Carolina: July 15 in Asheville (announcement & talking points)
- More will be announced soon: Check www.lta.org/greatoutdoors for updates
We're particularly excited about the Davis listening session, which will be hosted by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA), who introduced the bill to make the enhanced easement incentive permanent (H.R. 1831). We need as many people as possible, especially easement donors, to attend that session, thank Rep. Thompson for his leadership and insist on the importance of making the incentive permanent.
The America's Great Outdoors listening sessions are feeding into a report to the President in November. We believe this report is the best forum for promoting the idea of allowing enough flexibility in the LWCF so that, like the Great Outdoors Colorado program created when Ken Salazar was Director of Natural Resources of that state, it can be used to help land trusts with acquisitions of land and easements. Please consider voting for two such ideas already submitted to their IdeaJam website:
- Expand Use of LWCF for Private Lands Conservation and Third-party Administration
- Make current federal land conservation funds available to qualified land trusts
There have been some recent changes to the IdeaJam website. Please continue urging your members to vote for the land trust ideas listed here, but the original categories they're listed under have been "archived," and replaced by new categories on "challenges," "what works," "Federal government role" and "tools." We've asked Interior to restore the original categories, but we also encourage you to post ideas in the new categories.
Thanks for helping!
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