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More than 200 outdoors groups call on Congress to revive Land and Water Conservation Fund

WASHINGTON — On the heels of the midterm elections, 204 hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation organizations and businesses from 33 states, including Minnesota and North Dakota, are urging federal lawmakers to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding.

In a letter to congressional leadership, the groups — whose members, customers, and leaders represent a sizeable segment of America's 40 million hunters and anglers — emphasize the LWCF's 50-year track record of conserving habitat and expanding recreational access to America's public lands.

They also express the urgent need for Congress to take action and reauthorize the LWCF program during the lame duck session.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which lapsed Sept. 30, directs a portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing to fund local, state and federal projects that benefit conservation and outdoor recreation.

"Bills to reauthorize the LWCF have made good progress in committee, but Congress is running out of time to act," Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said in a statement. "We're depending on lawmakers to get this across the finish line before the end of the year, when even the best of intentions will be left on the cutting room floor."

Since its creation in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has invested more than $16 billion into conserving more than 5 million acres of public lands, among other achievements.

Both the House Natural Resources and Senate Energy and Natural Resources committees recently advanced their own versions of LWCF reauthorization legislation, H.R. 502 and S. 569. The House bill would reauthorize and fully fund the program while also dedicating 3 percent of LWCF dollars specifically to increasing public access on existing public lands. However, congressional leaders have yet to take action on this pending legislation, and the 115th Congress will end Jan. 3.

Signatories on the letter to lawmakers expressed concern that the program's expiration could seriously hamper future efforts to conserve valuable habitats and expand public access to America's public lands.

"With campaign season behind us, we encourage Congress to focus on passing a permanent LWCF reauthorization, with full, dedicated annual funding," Ben Jones, president and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society, said in a statement. "Sportsmen and women across the nation depend on this critical program for access and habitat, and we simply cannot wait any longer."

As hunting- and fishing-related businesses, many LWCF supporters cited the enormous economic impact of more than $887 billion in annual spending on outdoor recreation, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the American economy.

"Sportsmen and women across the country have made it clear that they want congressional leaders to work together on common-sense, bipartisan solutions like permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund — America's most successful land conservation and outdoor recreation program," said Andrew Black, public lands field director for the National Wildlife Federation. "Given its enormous benefits as a means of both conserving high-value landscapes and fueling economic growth, LWCF should be a lay-up for every member of Congress."

Signing the letter from Minnesota were the Minnesota chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Minnesota Council of Trout Unlimited and the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America. The North Dakota Chapter of Backcountry Anglers also signed the letter.