The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which since 1970 has provided $958,000 for 13 projects in Blaine County, is set to expire on Sept. 30.
Every year, the fund receives $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. It is intended to protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks-and-recreation projects.
Initially authorized in 1964 for a 25-year period, the fund was extended for another 25 years until 2015. It was temporarily extended for another three years until Sept. 30, 2018.
According to the National Park Service, even though the fund is authorized to receive up to $900 million annually, since 1999, appropriations for federal land acquisition and state grants have ranged from $149 million to $573 million. Fully funding the program would comprise only 11.5 percent of all oil and gas revenues, the Park Service stated.
Idaho has received about $279 million from the fund over the past five decades. Part of that money was used to construct several sections of the Wood River Trail, the Blaine County Aquatic Center and the Carey tennis courts, and to restore Bellevue Memorial Park. Fund money was involved in the purchase of 92 conservation easements on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, totaling about 17,000 acres, for $47 million. The fund helped create Atkinson Park in Ketchum, and in 2005, the city of Hailey was awarded $40,000 to make improvements at Keefer Park and on the 2.5-mile Toe of the Hill Trail.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is important for our community,” state Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said.
According to the Wilderness Society, President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget would reduce fund expenditures by 90 percent.
Bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate (S. 569 and S. 896) and House of Representatives (H.R. 502) to permanently reauthorize the fund. As of Tuesday, none of the four members of the Idaho delegation were listed as co-sponsors. However, Rep. Mike Simpson said he had been working closely with colleagues in Congress to reauthorize the program.
“I have seen the positive impact LWCF funding has had in Idaho,” Simpson said. “That is why I have used my seat on the House Appropriations Committee to maximize funding for LWCF in annual appropriations bills.”
Among the U.S. Forest Service’s 2019 requests for money from the fund is $2.5 million for its Salmon-Selway Landscape Initiative. The money would be used to acquire land and conservation easements on the Morgan Ranch along Sulphur Creek, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River that provides significant spawning and rearing habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout.