Tuesday, July 26, 2011

House debates conservation funding bill this week; Michigan projects at risk

WASHINGTON, D. C. -- The American public strongly supports the federal government's decades-old program of protecting land with money received from oil companies, a new bipartisan poll showed today. The poll was released as the House of Representatives prepares to vote this week on whether to siphon off almost all the money in the program putting projects in Michigan and across the country at risk.

Support for the program, known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), was at 85 percent in the poll, which was taken by two polling firms.

Since 1965, the LWCF program has been the nation's primary tool to conserve land for parks, wildlife refuges, forests, rivers, trails, historic and cultural sites and other important federal, state and local public lands.

By similar margins, the poll finds that a vast majority of Americans want Congress to honor its commitment to dedicate LWCF funds to these purposes rather than diverting them for unrelated uses.

The telephone poll of 800 likely voters was conducted during the week of July 10, 2011, and was undertaken jointly by two research firms, one Republican (Public Opinion Strategies) and one Democratic (Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates). The poll's major findings (margin of error of +/- 3.46 percent) include the following:
  • An overwhelming majority -- 88 percent -- of voters support continuing to deposit fees from offshore oil and gas drilling into the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In 2009, 81 percent of voters supported continued LWCF funding.
  • Voters from all major segments of the electorate support continued funding for LWCF, including 93 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of independents, and 83 percent of Republicans; 95 percent of Latinos, 88 percent of whites, and 85 percent of African Americans -- as well as 86 percent of voters in each region of the U.S.
The poll's findings come at a time when the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed a draconian 78 percent cut to LWCF in the FY 2012 Interior funding bill to $65.8 million -- the lowest level of funding since the law establishing LWCF was passed in 1965. The cuts have been proposed despite the fact that the fund uses no taxpayer dollars.

LWCF protection in Michigan

Over the past 45 years, LWCF has helped to protect land in every state, and in 98 percent of U.S. counties. In Michigan, LWCF has provided approximately $292 million in funding to help protect the state's most special places and ensure recreational access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. Public lands such as the Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshores, Keweenaw National Historic Park, and the Hiawatha, Huron, Manistee, and Ottawa National Forests are among the places that have benefited from LWCF funding. Several pending and proposed projects in Michigan are still awaiting LWCF funding.

"Americans across the political spectrum recognize the importance of investing oil and gas revenue in protecting our outdoor recreation heritage," said Nancy Warren, board member of the Upper Peninsula Public Access Coalition and resident of Ewen, Michigan. "The House of Representatives is set on dismantling a program that has done so much for our state in spite of overwhelming support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congress needs to restore its promise to the American people and set things right by not diverting these funds away from their intended purposes."

The House began to debate the Interior Appropriations bill, which includes funding for LWCF, on Monday, June 25. A vote on the bill is expected this week. Michigan Reps. Dale Kildee, Sander Levin, John Conyers and John Dingell recently joined a bipartisan group of 150 House members who signed a "Dear Colleague" letter requesting "robust and consistent" funding for LWCF.

The LWCF Coalition comprises conservation, recreation, business, and sportsmen's groups working together to support the LWCF program in order to meet America's conservation and recreation needs in the 21st century. For more information on LWCF and the places in each state that have been protected using LWCF funds, visit www.lwcfcoalition.org.

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