Congress should renew water fund

As autumn approaches, North Carolinians have a lot to look forward to, including fall foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains, quiet paddle trips on the Nantahala, fishing in the French Broad and the commencement of the hunting season. However, many of these experiences core to living in this great state could be diminished if Congress does not renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expires Sept. 30.

As a business owner in North Carolina, I know that public access to outdoor recreation, hunting and angling opportunities are critical to the health of our communities. Nearly half of N.C. residents (48 percent) participate in outdoor activities, generating $19.2 billion in consumer spending, 192,000 direct N.C. jobs, $5.6 billion in wages and salaries and $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue every year.

LWCF is a big part of this equation, supporting the backbone of our recreation economy – from backyard to backcountry public lands and waters. North Carolina has received around $216 million, protecting some of our state’s brightest natural jewels and most accessible parks – places that help drive our business like the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Pisgah National Forest.

Over the past 10 years, about half of annual appropriations for LWCF have gone to the four federal land management agencies. The other half have been allocated to state grants like the Forest Legacy Program and the National Park Service State and Local Assistance Program. These dollars stay in North Carolina and help support much-needed jobs.

Despite its success, over most of its 50-year existence, LWCF has been shortchanged. Congress’ original promise to the American people – asset-for-asset reinvestment of offshore drilling revenues into lasting land, water and recreation resources for everyone – has been met only once. Now is the time to correct this.

Recent polling has found that 85 percent of Americans believe Congress should honor its commitment to LWCF. I applaud Sen. Richard Burr for his leadership on LWCF and urge the rest of the N.C. delegation to work with their colleagues in Washington to renew and fully fund LWCF, so that our nation’s most important conservation program can continue its 50-year track record of success in North Carolina and nationwide.

Saldarini is president of Mountain Khakis, based in Charlotte.