Conservationists Call For Legislation To End Congressional Poaching of Land & Wildlife Funds

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(08/06/1998) - Washington, D.C. - At a Capitol Hill press conference today, Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen joined Rep. Dick Gephardt and Rep. George Miller in calling for legislation that would rejuvenate the Land & Water Conservation Fund and end "congressional poaching" of monies needed to protect parks and wildlife habitats. Schlickeisen released the following statement:

Statement Of Rodger Schlickeisen August 6, 1998, U.S. Capitol

Good afternoon. I am Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to join Rep. Gephardt at today's event. He has shown outstanding leadership with this legislation to rescue and rejuvenate the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The LWCF is called a "quiet program" because it is not known by name to many citizens, but it is nonetheless one of our nation's most important environmental programs. From Yosemite to the Appalachian Trail to small-town playgrounds, this program has had a profound impact on the many Americans who have benefited from the thousands of areas acquired by the fund.

The primary reason that Rep. Gephardt's legislation is significant is that it will finally fulfill the promise that Congress made three decades ago. In essence Congress made a pact with the American people to permit offshore oil and gas development in return for investing a small percentage of the royalties in a special fund that would benefit the entire nation. As you know, that promise has continually been broken. Although some $900 million are earmarked annually for various LWCF projects, the monies have increasingly been diverted by Congress to other uses.

As Rep. Gephardt's bill points out, the need to provide additional protection to our nation's vanishing wildlands and habitats is greater than ever. The National Biological Service warned in a 1995 report that the nation's ecosystems are in decline and many of our park and forest areas must be acquired quickly before lands and wildlife are destroyed.

In his Earth Day 1998 address, President Clinton emphasized that the Administration calls for a 43 percent increase over five years in the LWCF. We applaud the increase but the crisis for our vanishing lands is so great that we must move even more rapidly. In fact, according to a report sent to Congress and the President in April 1998 by a coalition of more than 100 organizations including Defenders of Wildlife, a chronic funding crisis threatens the nation's wildlife refuges, parks, forests, and other public lands.

Theodore Roosevelt IV, an investment banker who is the great-grandson of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt and chief spokesperson for the Public Lands Funding Initiative, warned on behalf of our coalition that our government is failing to uphold its responsibilities to provide sound and adequate investment in our public lands. He asked, "How are the fiscal conservatives in Congress caring for and investing in this invaluable public trust? They have opted for two management strategies: wholesale poaching and trickle-down-to-nothing funding."

Congress is poaching from the LWCF right now. The House-passedInterior appropriations bill for FY 1999, for example, would appropriate only $130 million instead of $900 million for the LWCF. And although Congress approved a relatively high special appropriation of $699 million for the LWCF last year, to date congressional committees have not taken action on a list of projects submitted by the Administration in February for the use of about $350 million of these unallocated funds. The Administration needs these funds to complete nearly a hundred park and wildlife habitats.

Rep. Gephardt's bill would remedy the situation in two ways. First, it would make the annual appropriation of $900 million automatic so that Congress cannot continue to underfund this vital program.

Second, the bill puts the Administration in the driver's seat inchoosing which projects to protect. This change is particularly important to wildlife. The habitats identified by government biologists for acquisition on the FY 1998 list, for example, range from wetlands in the Everglades to important Yellowstone bison habitat. More than two dozen existing wildlife refuges have been identified by the Administration as needing timely additions to protect habitat.

So we are here today to call for a bipartisan effort to stop the raids on our nation's vanishing lands, to halt the poaching, and to invest in the environment using just a small part of the royalties incurred by taking environmental risks. Congress owes at least that to the American people. The legislation proposed today by Rep. Gephardt will fulfill that promise to use the LWCF to protect our heritage of wildlife, parklands, and recreational opportunities for future generations.

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