U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today joined U.S. Senator Richard Burr, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Butch Blazer and Southern Appalachian conservation leaders and groups to highlight the need for Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund to help boost local economies, support clean watersheds and provide outdoor recreation opportunities in North Carolina and across the nation.
Over its 50 year history, the Fund has reinvested a small portion of revenues from federal oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf in over 40,000 local conservation and outdoor recreation projects that protect our nation's land, water and wildlife heritage. The program is set to expire next year without action from Congress; President Obama has proposed to fully and permanently fund the program.
During the visit to the Carver's Gap area, Secretary Jewell and others toured a 600-acre parcel of land known as Grassy Ridge, which has been proposed for addition to the Pisgah National Forest using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This tract of land was purchased by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy from area private landowners willing to sell lands to help preserve the natural heritage in and around the National Forest. A critical bridge between the National Forest and the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area to the south, the area is a destination for hiking, fishing and hunting, and includes nationally recognized hiking trails, habitat for rare plants and an important watershed which provides drinking water to three million citizens in North and South Carolina.
"Over the past 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has used revenue from federal oil and gas development to help set aside beautiful landscapes and vital wildlife habitat in the Southern Appalachians for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation, as well as for critical water sources that serve millions of people in the Carolinas," Jewell said. "I appreciate Senator Burr's support for this innovative program that not only improves the quality of life for communities through open spaces and clean water, but also strengthens North Carolina's economy. As we look to the next 50 years, we need to fulfill the promise to the American people by fully and permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund."
Since 1964, North Carolina has received more than $230 million through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In addition to building hiking and biking trails, improving community parks and playgrounds and protecting Civil War battlefields, North Carolina has used the funds to conserve treasured places, like Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah National Forest. In addition, LWCF funds have been used to add more than 17,000 acres to the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, prime destinations for outdoor recreation.
A recent study found that for every $1 invested in federal land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, there is a return of $4 to state and local communities.
"North Carolina has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most scenic states in the country," Senator Burr said. "I am proud to continue efforts to ensure that funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund is used to preserve North Carolina's scenic treasures for future generations."
"The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides funding to conserve important lands, waters and historical sites," said Deputy Undersecretary Blazer. "The project we looked at this morning involves not just the federal government, but the State of North Carolina, conservation minded organizations and individuals. This project, and others like it, demonstrate bi-partisan understanding that preserving private forestlands and protecting public access to North Carolina's and America's landscapes helps strengthen local economies and improve quality of life in communities across the country."
Without using taxpayer dollars, the Land and Water Conservation Fund enables state and local governments to establish everything from baseball fields to community green spaces; to provide public access to rivers, lakes and other water resources; to expand the interpretation of historic and cultural sites; and to conserve natural landscapes for public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment.
"The LWCF has been an invaluable resource for North Carolina," said Mike Murphy Director of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. "An overwhelming majority of citizens use, enjoy and benefit from the public facilities made possible through LWCF, and many of them have come to realize that parks, greenways, trails, open space, playgrounds and other facilities are as much a part of our nation's infrastructure as roads, bridges and schools."
"On behalf of The Conservation Fund, I applaud Secretary Jewell's leadership and personal passion for assuring that beloved recreational lands on the Blue Ridge Parkway are preserved for the multitudes of Americans who visit and enjoy it," said R. Michael Leonard Chairman of The Conservation Fund. "Iconic and exceptional places like this enrich us as a nation, and their permanent protection is only possible because of generous and visionary landowners, passionate private conservation champions -- like Fred and Alice Stanback and Brad and Shelly Stanback -- and inspired government prudence and support through the Land and Water Conservation Fund."
"The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 700,000 acres in North Carolina," said Fred Annand Director of Conservation Resources for the N.C. Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "We didn't do that by ourselves -- it is because we can leverage dollars from generous private donors with public funds. Full funding of the LWCF is vital to continued conservation success on the ground in North Carolina."
Only once in the past 50 years has Congress appropriated funding for Land and Water Conservation Fund at the full authorized level of $900 million. President Obama's budget request includes a legislative proposal to establish dedicated, mandatory funding for Land and Water Conservation Fund programs, with full funding at $900 million beginning in 2015.
Jewell's North Carolina visit is part of a weeklong tour to highlight the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to local communities and economies. Jewell will also travel to Indiana, New Mexico and Arizona this week to join with local, bipartisan officials and stakeholders to discuss the Fund's role in establishing urban parks and refuges that connect Americans, especially young people, to the great outdoors.