Land and water conservation fund in jeopardy

The Department of the Interior is in charge of about 20 percent of the land in the United States.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell was in the La Crosse and Onalaska areas touring the Upper Mississippi River Friday, discussing a major source of funding to the outdoors that could be in jeopardy.

The Land and Water Conservation Act was passed in 1965 and is set to expire at the end of September. It is funded through offshore drilling for gas and oil, and funds help conserve U.S. land and water.

The U.S. Congress needs to reauthorize the act before it expires, otherwise risk losing one of the major funding sources for wildlife conservation in the country.

The Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge spans 240,000 acres from Lake Pepin to the Quad Cities in Iowa.

In the past eight to 10 years, the refuge has benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with more to come.

“In this refuge we’ve had about 4,000 acres we’ve purchased recently with Land and Water Conservation funds. We have another $2 million right now available to purchase land and we’ve got a couple of acquisitions in the hopper,” said Sabrina Chandler, refuge manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Advocates for the reauthorization of the LWCF Act, Rep. Ron Kind and Jewell were out on the mighty Mississippi Friday to see firsthand how valuable this funding is.

“This is a great example of very accessible public land that can bring the outdoors and nature into people’s everyday lives,” Jewell said. “This refuge gets 4 million visitors a year; 4 million. That’s near the top of the entire National Wildlife Refuge system and frankly it’s a lot more than many of our iconic national parks like Yellowstone, for example.”

“We don’t have pyramids, we don’t have a Great Wall, we don’t have those other iconic landmarks, but we do have this monument to civilization,” Kind said.

Jewell said if Congress does not reauthorize the fund, hundreds of millions of dollars would be at stake to be taken from conservation efforts and put toward anything else Congress can wants to spend it on.

“Its reauthorization is really important because there is a lot of people that would like to grab the money from LWCF to use it for their pet projects,” Jewell said.

Both Kind and Jewell said the LWCF Act has plenty of bipartisan support so it should be reauthorized.

It will be discussed when Congress is back in session following Labor Day.

The outdoor recreation industry is a nearly $12 billion industry in Wisconsin each year and it employs more than 140,000 people.