Florida is blessed with beautiful landscapes, exotic creatures, and exciting outdoor recreation opportunities. Whether you want to observe alligators or witness rockets being launched into space, you can do it along Florida’s protected public coasts.
There is a historic national program known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund which unites many of these unique outdoor experiences. Called “LWCF” for short, the fund uses a portion of fees from offshore oil drilling to protect special places. Without the use of taxpayer dollars, LWCF supports the acquisition of land and conservation easements to protect America’s parks and wildlife refuges.
I was fortunately able to witness the benefits of LWCF firsthand during my career working with the National Park Service at multiple locations across the country. While serving as superintendent of Everglades National Park in the early 2000’s, I led the implementation of the Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Plan. Authorized by Congress in 2000, the success of that plan is due in part to the LWCF.
In Fiscal Year 2012, the Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve to its north together received $30 million in LWCF funding. These funds will enable the restoration of the Florida Everglades to continue. With the help of local stakeholders, the Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will work to repair the natural flow of water in the Everglades ecosystem. Among the many benefits of this restoration project, fish populations will improve as will related commercial and recreational fishing opportunities.
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Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited Big Cypress last October. I imagine he enjoyed watching the alligators as much as I did while working in the Everglades. Having been at Interior for less than a year at the time of the Big Cypress visit, Secretary Zinke may not have known about the valuable role that LWCF had played at the site. But as an historic supporter of LWCF as a Montana Congressman, I would like to think that the Secretary would have applauded the fund’s practical use at Big Cypress as well as the Everglades.
These days, Secretary Zinke’s position on LWCF is as murky as the swampy waters swirling around the Everglades. Established in 1965, today the LWCF is on the brink of expiring. If LWCF is not reauthorized by September 30, this invaluable tool for protecting Florida’s outdoor recreation sites will evaporate.
Secretary Zinke has failed to make any official recommendation to Congress in support of making LWCF permanent, though after questioning from Senators he recently assured them of his support for LWCF. We need Florida’s representatives in Congress to hold him and the Trump Administration to that commitment. Florida is lucky to have LWCF supporters like Congressman Carlos Curbelo in Congress, but we need them to get LWCF reauthorized before it expires at the end of September.
When I began my job at the Everglades National Park as Deputy Superintendent in 1983, the challenges facing the Everglades were immense. While those challenges have not gone away, I can say with certainty the Everglades would be worse off today if it weren’t for LWCF, and its future will be dimmer if our nation’s leaders allow LWCF to expire on September 30.
Let’s hope that the 50-year old Land and Water Conservation Fund does not expire. Instead, let’s hope it goes the way of the American Alligator: once endangered, today their numbers are making a comeback. My message to Secretary Zinke and Florida’s representatives in Congress: please work to bring LWCF back from the brink of extinction.
former Superintendent of Everglades National Park and Olympic National Park. She is a member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.