More land, less stewardship – July/August 2022
Well, that didn’t take long! Wyoming Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation have had a policy advocating doing away with the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for several years. LWCF has been in existence since legislation passed in 1964. The fund was created by Congress and according to the Land & Water Conservation Fund Coalition the purpose is to “conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation.”
The LWCF is paid for with a fee on offshore drilling, but the money must be appropriated by Congress. Up until 2020 Congress has been authorizing funding on a hit-or-miss basis but in 2020 that changed. Congress decided the funding needed to be made permanent to the tune of $900 million every year. Prior to the permanent funding of the LWCF we were treated to a litany of items that needed to be addressed, generally in our national parks. We were told these items just couldn’t get done because Congress was reluctant to fund the program permanently.
The LWCF also shared the monies with states so those entities could use the dollars for similar efforts. The federal folks understood that if they shared the money with states, this would help build a strong support base to lobby Congress for a permanent funding and that’s exactly what happened. With the current administration focusing on the perceived need for recreation and open spaces through the 30 X 30 initiative and Congress anxious to spend money, both on a local and national level, it was inevitable they would ignore the folks in agriculture who had concerns about the program. Indeed, there were efforts by some congressional representatives in the West to limit the purchase of private lands by the program to lands east of the Mississippi. These efforts were defeated, but mild assurances were made that we would not really use the money for land purchases much.
Ironically, just a little short of two years after permanent funding we learned about the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) purchasing a 35,000-acre ranch in central Wyoming. Of course, the press releases from Interior played up access and conserving a unique landscape, even though that landscape had been doing just fine as a ranch up until 2022.
It now turns out the BLM may not have followed their own process in purchasing this ranch. Some things were not done which were required prior to the purchase. We will undoubtedly find out more processes were ignored in the rush to acquire more federal lands.
Before the ink was dry on the announcement of this purchase, Yellowstone National Park faced a significant flood event which did millions, if not billions, of dollars of damage to infrastructure within the Park. It seems to me that the $900 million per year Congress permanently authorized would be well spent to try and rebuild the damage in our nation’s first national park. Unfortunately, we’ve already spent the money on a ranch. I suspect federal bureaucrats will use the damage in Yellowstone to get Congress to appropriate money directly to fix the damage, while merrily using the LWCF to seek out opportunities to buy more private land.
Several years ago, while participating in a Wyoming Legislative Committee meeting I watched as an entity was exhorting the legislators to spend more money on them. One member apparently had heard enough and asked the individual why he didn’t prioritize the funding the entity was getting to take care of the important need they wanted the Legislature to fund.
That conversation keeps replaying itself in my mind as I watch the LWCF money being spent expanding federal lands while Interior laments the lack of funding to fix the infrastructure in Yellowstone National Park.
By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President