With the approval of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, the Senate voted to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, which uses royalties from off-shore oil and gas leases to buy federal land for recreation and conservation purposes.
Both of West Virginia’s U.S. Senators voted to approve the measure, after voting to reject an amendment that would have diverted funds away from their traditional use. It’s the first time that permanent reauthorization of LWCF has passed the Senate. The bill must be reconciled with a House-passed energy bill.
“Since 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used to preserve and promote some of our nation’s most iconic landscapes, including West Virginia’s Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the Gauley River,” Senator Joe Manchin said. “The LWCF protects our state and nation’s natural treasures, and I applaud its permanent authorization.”
Passage of a permanent reauthorization measure is a major priority for West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a nonprofit river advocacy group. “West Virginia’s iconic public lands are our Wild and Wonderful identity,” said Angie Rosser, WV Rivers Coalition executive director. “LWCF has helped purchase recreation land along our rivers and create access through trailheads and visitor centers. Permanent reauthorization gives a needed boost to West Virginia’s recreation economy.”
All public access points along West Virginia’s Lower and Middle Gauley River, which is used by over 50,000 people annually, were made possible by LWCF funding. LWCF has also protected 57,000 acres in the Gauley River and New River Gorge Recreation Area that includes river access and rock-climbing routes. Roughly 1.2 million visitors enjoy these two parks annually, bringing $53 million to the local economy and directly supporting more than 700 jobs – just from these sites.
The Outdoor Industry Association reports that outdoor recreation generates $7.6 billion in consumer spending in West Virginia, supporting 82,000 jobs that generate $2 billion in wages and salaries and $532 million annually in state and local tax revenue.