North Carolinians have a habit of referring to our state as “God’s country.” With a natural bounty from mountain to shore and a steady history of foresight that has helped protect state treasures like the Blue Ridge Mountains, Cape Hatteras and the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests – it’s easy to see what gives residents across the state that sense of pride. But recently, gridlock in Congress has transformed some of that pride to frustration as the vital federal program that helps protect our resources has been called into question in Washington.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund has seemingly been in the news more in the past month than over the entire course of its history dating back to 1965. Largely, that’s because the program has been effective and noncontroversial – enjoying bipartisan support from members of Congress and voters who recognize the importance of protecting our country’s most beloved natural areas.
When the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, reauthorizing a fully funded LWCF should have been automatic – an easy point of consensus in a Congress with plenty more controversial issues to debate. Instead Rob Bishop, a Congressman from Utah, essentially blocked a reauthorization and has since embarked on an inexplicable crusade to “reform” the LWCF in ways that would severely limit its impact – and put the future of North Carolina’s treasures at increased risk.
In North Carolina, the LWCF has brought $200 million in assistance both to our iconic landmarks and local, community recreation areas like ballparks and picnic areas – and it’s done so without spending a dime of taxpayer money. Instead of relying on taxpayer funding, the LWCF receives a small portion of revenue from oil and gas drilling off our coasts and leverages that money with state and local partners to secure our precious open spaces. It’s a smart and simple trade-off, leveraging revenues from one natural resource (oil and gas) to protect another (our land and water).
For many North Carolinians, including myself, the importance of preserving our state’s beloved landmarks and parks can feel uniquely personal – and intertwined with our values on family and our eye toward our children’s future. Growing up, I was influenced by my grandfather’s love for the mountains of western North Carolina, where he spent time camping and hiking. To me, access to those same opportunities and providing them for generations to come is part of what it means to be a North Carolinian. It is what I strive to show my children as we visit the shores and mountains of North Carolina.
As a Christian, my sense of stewardship – caring for the land that God provides us – is a central part of my faith. We are called as people of faith to preserve and protect the bounty of lowlands, mountains and waters in North Carolina. The LWCF helps us be good stewards of God’s creation.
Fortunately for North Carolina, the importance of the LWCF is not lost on its senior senator, Richard Burr. Spurred by advocacy and advertisements encouraging action, Burr has made reauthorizing the LWCF a top priority. He’s called the program “the most effective government program we have” and pushed for a lifeline extension of 60 days following the program’s expiration in September. Burr emphasized the impact of the LWCF on our future just last month on the Senate floor, explaining the program “was set up to allow individual treasures to be preserved. ... It’s about our children and grandchildren.”
Now more than ever we need Burr to continue using his voice and moral example to work with Senate leadership on reaching an agreement to save the LWCF and to ensure that efforts to weaken LWCF’s impact by Bishop do not move forward. Communities across North Carolina – and the country at large – deserve a government that helps protect our God-given natural heritage, sharing it across generations and preserving it for the generations to come.
Cassandra Carmichael is the Executive Director of The National Religious Partnership for the Environment.