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COLUMN: Legislation to Address Public Lands Must Include Debate

June 22, 2020
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Our largely rural, agricultural district understands the importance of conservation firsthand. The public lands we enjoy in Central Washington depend on local environmental stewardship, maintenance, and upkeep. I support these efforts alongside the many communities across the 4th District and in districts across the country as Congress works to protect and reinvigorate our national parks, public lands, and national forests.

That is why I am proud to cosponsor the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act to address our country’s deferred maintenance backlog in our national parks and on many of our public lands. The U.S. Senate recently passed this bill in a greater package of bills called the Great American Outdoors Act. This legislation attempts to accomplish many shared goals for public lands and national parks across the country and contains many provisions I support.

However, I share the concerns of many of my colleagues who note some of the problematic provisions in this legislation, and I am therefore calling for an open amendment process as the bill comes before the House for consideration.

The Great American Outdoors Act sets permanent mandatory spending on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million each year. LWCF uses revenues from the oil and gas industry to fund conservation projects on our federal lands. I have long been a supporter of the main tenets of LWCF, as it has been responsible for significant progress for conservation efforts nationwide. However, I believe it is an unbalanced approach to permanently mandate funds from our nation’s energy sector without including policy reforms to support these industries, which are crucial to safeguarding our country’s energy independence and national security.

Meanwhile, setting mandatory spending for LWCF into perpetuity eliminates congressional oversight of these funds and could lead to concerning federal land grabs we have witnessed in the past. Under the LWCF, not more than 15% of lands acquired by the U.S. Forest Service is to be west of the 100th meridian; but from 2014 to 2018, 80% of the land acquired was indeed west of the 100th meridian. We need more congressional oversight over federal bureaucrats’ locking up productive lands, not less.

Throughout my time in Congress – as well as my career as a farmer in Central Washington – I have come to understand how local control of our lands, infrastructure, and conservation projects have benefited local communities. We should encourage increased local management rather than empower the federal government to unilaterally control and acquire more of our land.

The people of Central Washington are avid outdoorsmen and women and passionate advocates for access to public lands. I strongly stand behind my constituents in supporting the restoration of our national parks, public lands, and federal infrastructure. I agree with much of the intent of the Great American Outdoors Act, but I fear this sweeping legislation could have unintended consequences for communities like ours in Central Washington. Therefore, I am hopeful House leadership will allow for debate and amendments to this bill to ensure the final product will do as intended: responsibly conserve our natural resources, strengthen our beautiful public lands, and ensure access for generations to come.