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Environment

Conservation Fund That Created Many Idaho Special Places In Limbo

conservation_map_of_idaho_nature_conservancy.jpg
The Nature Conservancy

Since Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) expire in September, conservationists have been trying to get it re-authorized.

This obscure federal fund takes a portion of the proceeds from offshore oil and gas drilling and puts them into conservation projects. Restoring the original fund has broad support in Congress, but there are some lawmakers who would like to change how the money gets used. They argue too much of the funding has gone into federal land acquisition, and not enough to state-level projects.

Will Whelan is with the Idaho chapter of the Nature Conservancy, which supports keeping the fund as is. He says the program has sent more than $234 million to Idaho over the last 50 years.

“Some of it’s been used right in town. We see parks and ball fields that are in various cities around the state that people use every day. Much of it has been used to conserve some of Idaho’s most scenic and spectacular landscapes, places that when we think of Idaho, these are the places we think about,” says Whelan.

He says that includes the Hulls Gulch Preserve in Boise.

Whelan says there’s broad, bipartisan support for renewing the LWCF. But he says a couple of weeks ago Utah Representative Rob Bishop proposed changes to the LWCF.

“That would slash deeply its conservation component. It would change the rules for how those oil and gas revenues would be spent, removing from the program really any effective way of conserving our open spaces, our beautiful vistas, our big rivers, through the core of the conservation program under LWCF,” says Whelan.

We called Representative Bishop for his response:

“He’s flat out wrong. So we are still doing all the conservation, we’re still doing those projects. It will be those projects though that are organized, requested by the states, the counties, the tribes, the local government and people," says Bishop. "So there will be no loss of conservation effort. It’s simply you’re going to change it from the federal side, into a state program, where state grants can have some kind of control over it. It’s just simply not going to be done by the federal government."

Last week, Bishop held a hearing on his proposal to change how some of the Land and Water Conservation Fund would be allocated. It would dramatically cut how much money could be used for federal land purchases. It would also spend some of the money for offshore oil and gas development and for payments to rural counties.

We'll keep you updated as the issue moves forward in Washington.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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