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Public Lands Money We Thought Couldn’t Go Away Just Did

The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for state, federal and local parks without any taxes, relying on royalty money from federal oil and gas leases. Or at least it did until Republicans recently killed it by letting the funding expire.

Peter Jackson is a writer and the son of the late Washington Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson. He told KUOW’s David Hyde this decision's impact will be felt all around the country, including Washington state.

“There's barely any county in the state that isn't affected in some way, whether it's a community pool, whether it's a county park,” Peter Jackson said. “There's the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway, Mount Rainier National Park. There's a $4 million proposal right now to help the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.”

So no taxes. Lots of examples of special places. What do Republicans say about why they let the fund expire?

“In fairness we're talking about a minority of a minority of Republicans. In this case it’s Rob Bishop, who is the chair [of the House Natural Resources Committee] who has expressed concern that we can't even manage the lands that we currently have. But if there were a vote on reauthorization tomorrow, we would see this pass with probably 80 percent. And the original legislation when it was passed in 1964, I think it was 92-1 in the Senate.”

Do you have a sense of what this fund meant to your father?

“I think he was very proud of it. Scoop was given this chairmanship role [of the Senate Interior Committee] and immediately was hit with things like the Wilderness Act, which Frank Church helped shepherd in the Senate. But this is one of his cornerstone achievements, I think, as a freshman chairman of a major committee when it comes to the American West and public lands. And it was the beginning of his evolution from a conservationist to being an environmentalist later on in his career."

And what does it mean to you?

"It means a great deal because I think it shows there was a time, without being too maudlin about it, when government could have imagination, where you could actually get things done in a creative way. And right now if we could ever look at something as sort of a bellwether for how far we’ve fallen, it might be the Land and Water Conservation Fund, because everyone agrees it is consistent with the public interest, everyone agrees that it's something that can be easily accessed. What's more egalitarian than public lands?"

So what does the funds expiration mean for the future of these public places?

"It actually is pretty grave. I think a lot of us were sort of (thinking) of course this couldn't actually expire. I mean it is our trademark land and conservation program here in the United States. Now states that do want to protect these lands, states that want to help, for example the Pacific Crest Trail maintenance, are going to have to go to taxpayers and taxpayers already feel overburdened on these things. And smaller communities feel overburdened on these things. So again, you don't want to become too grim about it. But there has to be some kind of groundswell among Americans, both conservative and liberal, that this is such a public good that we have to demand of our lawmakers take action on it."

These excerpts were edited for clarity.

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