Opinion

Federal Conservation Fund needs reauthorization

By Rob Gelder

Kitsap County Commissioner

Over the past few years, Kitsap County has preserved more than 11 miles of stream banks to keep our water clean and protected 534 acres of wildlife habitat and recreation lands as part of the ongoing Kitsap Forest and Bay Project with funds to acquire another 500 by the close of 2014. The scale of this project is nearly unprecedented, but even with all this success, we can’t stop now.

A new opportunity within this critical project, the Kitsap Ride Park, has been envisioned to create a mountain bike challenge course, provide a link to the Sound-to-Olympics regional trail and protect valuable wildlife habitat near some of the most productive shellfish beds in the region.

Kitsap County’s goal is to create a system of connected multi-surface and multi-use trails to promote healthy lifestyles and serve citizens of all ages and abilities with diverse outdoor recreation activities. The Ride Park provides opportunities for families to safely enjoy a healthy activity together.

To make this vision a reality, the county has applied for a grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF is our nation’s premier tool to preserve national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, and to provide our communities with state and local parks and recreation areas – and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime. The Fund reinvests a small fraction of royalties collected from oil and gas companies when they drill in public waters located offshore.

But despite the value that the LWCF brings to our communities and our state, recent cuts would cripple the Fund’s ability to continue making a difference here in Kitsap County.

Three years ago, I wrote about then Representative Jay Inslee leading the charge for LWCF in Congress. Now, we have Mr. Inslee as our governor who made the first phase of Kitsap Forest and Bay possible by leading the charge for state Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program funding in Olympia.

Thankfully, we have the continued leadership of both Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Congressman Derek Kilmer, for the LWCF. Especially important is Sen. Murray’s support as budget chairwoman. She has co-sponsored legislation to fully fund and reauthorize the LWCF, to ensure that projects like Kitsap Forest and Bay aren’t left in the lurch.

The Kitsap Forest and Bay Project represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve an incredible landscape while also increasing access to the outdoors right in our backyards. But we have to act now. As the landowner begins divesting their timber holdings, public access will be cut off from this area as  the land is sold off for development.

With a land owner willing to sell, motivated community partners, demand for public access and a critical need for conservation, the only thing missing are grant dollars.

Let’s stand behind leaders like Sen. Murray in getting LWCF reauthorized with full funding to support projects like ours and hundreds of others across our nation. It would be impossible to meet the growing need for conservation without support from this program.

This is just  too precious of an opportunity to lose.

 

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder  can be reached at 360-337-7146 or email him at rgelder@co.kitsap.wa.us.

 

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