Thank you, Sen. Ernst, for supporting conservation

A wetland in the waterfowl refuge of the Big Marsh Wildlife Management Area is shown outside of Parkersburg on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. The wildlife area includes wetlands from the flood planes of the Cedar River's west fork. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
A wetland in the waterfowl refuge of the Big Marsh Wildlife Management Area is shown outside of Parkersburg on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. The wildlife area includes wetlands from the flood planes of the Cedar River's west fork. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

For 52 years the Land and Water Conservation Fund has supported projects across the country that provide important recreational access for hunting and fishing, neighborhood parks and trails, and natural areas that sustain clean water and wildlife habitat.

Over the decades, hundreds of these projects, big and small, including the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge to the local City Park Playground in Rockwell City, have been made possible in Iowa through Land and Water Conservation Funds. However, the conservation fund is set to expire in September 2018 unless it is reauthorized. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, recently joined a bipartisan group of senators in support of a bill to permanently re-authorize LWCF.

We thank Sen. Ernst for supporting LWCF. The fund protects some of our most special and unique places in Iowa, such as the Northern Tallgrass Prairie, Neal Smith and Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuges, and the Effigy Mounds National Monument. In addition, LWCF is a cost-effective way to enhance conservation through projects such as watershed, forest and wetland conservation.

Instead of using taxpayer dollars, the fund is based on a simple idea: that a small portion of the billions in annual offshore oil and gas revenues the government receives should be directed to protect important land and water resources. In October, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced Iowa will receive $1.2 million for distribution across the state, adding to the more than $54 million Iowa has already received for the state grant program.

Outdoor recreation is an important piece of our economy and quality of life. In fact, in a recently released report from the Outdoor Industry Association, Iowans are more likely to participate in camping and fishing than the average American. This love for the outdoors, detailed in the report, led to an outdoor recreational industry that sustains 83,000 direct jobs and generates $8.7 billion in consumer spending annually.

LWCF projects that grow our economy through outdoor recreation include a fishing pier at Jester Park in Polk County; a campground, trail, and day use area at Darkins Lake in Story County; and, camping cabins at Dog Creek Park in O’Brien County. In Pottawattamie County, LWCF funds helped create access to the West Nishnabotna Water Trail at Botna Bend Park.

Bottlenecks to hunting and fishing access points can be an easy problem to fix with small projects, easements and rights of way, but such small projects often do not make it to the top of federal agencies’ lists of priorities. Senate Bill 896, and every major piece of legislation involving LWCF in recent years, includes a 1.5 percent set-aside specifically for sportsmen’s access, to make public lands truly public.

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We thank Sen. Ernst for her recognition of how important the Land and Water Conservation Fund is to Iowa, and her commitment to reauthorization. We hope her colleagues will join her in the continuation of this great program that protects some of the most special places in Iowa and beyond.

• John Aschenbrenner is board chair and Jan Glendening is state director of the Iowa Chapter of the Nature Conservancy

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