New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced plans to preserve nearly 4,000 acres of the mid-Hudson Valley area. These lands will add trails to seven state parks and conserve critical ecological habitats. The funding for this project will come in part from the federal government which included $10 million for the Highlands Conservation Act, a program funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
For more than 50 years, the LWCF has supported federal, state, and local initiatives to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the country. In this time, New York State has received $350 million in funding for more than 1,200 projects, including the New York-New Jersey Highlands, Sterling Forest, and Bear Mountain State Park.
In a twist of irony, the program that is tasked with preserving America’s greatest places also needs to be saved. Over the course of LWCF’s 50-year history, political raids have redirected $22 billion from the program, leaving the program chronically underfunded and shortchanging conservation efforts. This continued last year when the Trump administration sought to shrink LWCF funding by 105%—a figure less than zero—in its annual budget proposal. Thankfully congress fought back last year and delivered $495 million for the LWCF, the highest amount in 17 years. Congress now has an opportunity to end this harmful practice by passing H.R 3195, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act that would permanently provide $900 million annually to the LWCF.
The LWCF Permanent Funding Act has passed through Committee and is co-sponsored by a bipartisan majority of the House. Just this week, 172 House Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urging a floor vote on this bill. Every day that Congress waits, money continues to be diverted away from urgent conservation and recreation needs—more than a million dollars a day at FY20 spending levels.
One member from our region who can help press this case with leadership is Rep. Nita Lowey (NY-17). Rep. Lowey has been a champion of the environment throughout her career, consistently fighting for more LWCF funding and bringing to light the ecological concerns and necessities for the Hudson Valley. In fact, Rep. Lowey was a leading architect of last year’s LWCF increase and was also a major booster for the funding that actualized the recent parkland acquisition announced by Governor Cuomo.
As one of her final acts before leaving congress, we are counting on Rep. Lowey to convince Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to have a floor vote on LWCF Permanent Funding Act. While it is hard to imagine a congress without Rep. Lowey fighting for the LWCF, her role to secure this vote will never be forgotten.
Julie Tighe, President, New York League of Conservation Voters