Conservationists cried foul this week when a bill that would slash money for land and water conservation projects began moving through Congress. They're putting pressure on U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to support the fund.
The Camas Republican sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, as well as its environmental subcommittee, which passed the bill in question. Even though Herrera Beutler plans to vote in favor of the bill, it doesn't mean she supports zeroing out the Land and Water Conservation Fund, her spokesman Casey Bowman said.
Beyond the conservation fund provision, the House bill allots $24.3 billion next year to the federal Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service and other agencies. The bill would reduce funding to those agencies by 19 percent when compared with 2013 spending levels.
Herrera Beutler's final decision on the bill came down to fiscal responsibility, Bowman said.
"(The legislation) confronts our federal budget challenges by reducing spending while still maintaining a commitment to Southwest Washington's priorities, but that doesn't mean she agrees with the decision to zero out the LWCF," he said.
The conservation fund was created in the 1960s to help federal and state governments acquire natural areas for their protection and for public recreation. It is financed primarily through fees paid by oil companies that drill offshore. Conservation groups say the fund raises $900 million each year, but most of that money is diverted to cover other government
spending that has nothing to do with the fund's intended purpose.
Herrera Beutler "has recognized that the Land and Water Conservation Fund has (had) value to our communities in the past, and this isn't the last opportunity to fund the program," Bowman said by email. He added that Herrera Beutler will work to make sure that some money is included for the fund when a compromise bill is hammered out between the House and Senate.
The fund has provided matching grants for projects throughout Southwest Washington, including $400,000 for greenspace in Salmon Creek, $500,000 for Fallen Leaf Park in Camas, and more than $446,000 to develop the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail in Vancouver.
"The citizens of (Washington) state have shown they really support this funding," said Hannah Clark of the Seattle-based Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. "We hope that Congresswoman Herrera Beutler will continue her support for quality of life in Washington, and as a member of the (environmental) subcommittee, work to ensure LWCF keeps benefiting Washington."
Additionally, supporters of the fund have said there is a backlog of conservation projects across the country waiting for money, and that paying for those projects could boost the recreation and tourism industries.
The bill Herrera Beutler supports also would cut the EPA's budget by 34 percent, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's budget by 27 percent.
Bowman pointed out that the budget gives an increase of $559 million to the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to fight wildfires. It also makes no cuts to a federal program that helps rural communities meet EPA regulations when operating their drinking water facilities. Those were both provisions Herrera Beutler fought to include in the bill, Bowman said.
Herrera Beutler had another opportunity to approve money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund a year ago, when she was tapped to serve on a committee to reconcile Senate and House differences on a transportation bill. The Senate's version included $700 million a year for the conservation fund, but Herrera Beutler indicated she would support providing about $300 million for the fund.