Conservation fund facing uncertain future

A stormy sunrise over Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge highlights the tranquil beauty of the 16,000-acre wildlife sanctuary established in 1937. (Special to the Delaware State News file photo by Jerry Hull)

A stormy sunrise over Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge highlights the tranquil beauty of the 16,000-acre wildlife sanctuary established in 1937. (Special to the Delaware State News file photo by Jerry Hull)

DOVER — A federal fund used to support conservation projects and parks, including several in Delaware, is in danger of running out. The Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire at the end of the month if no further action is taken, a prospect alarming to many activists and Delaware’s congressional delegation.

For 50 years, the LWCF has provided money to help keep natural areas pristine through creating and expanding many parks and wildlife preserves. While Delaware’s two National Wildlife Refuges receive most of their federal funding from other sources, such as the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, they have been earmarked LWCF money. Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge has received about $4.3 million, which was used to purchase 970 acres, while $18,000 bought 154 acres for Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, according to Joe McCauley, regional realty chief for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Especially for Prime Hook, those appropriations mattered, Mr. McCauley noted.

“That is significant for a refuge that is small and where every acre does count for conservation,” he said.

The fund receives money from offshore oil and gas drilling royalties rather than general tax dollars, a point of pride and emphasis for backers.

A great egret dives after a small fish. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge receives money from the federal Land and Conservation Fund, a source of money that could be facing extinction, environmental activists warn.

A great egret dives after a small fish. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge receives money from the federal Land and Conservation Fund, a source of money that could be facing extinction, environmental activists warn.

After the LWCF was renewed with ease when the original funding ran out in 1990, many supporters were expecting a similar path this time around. However, partisan politics and the frequent disagreements in Congress have made it difficult to get the reauthorization, according to Amy Lindholm, director of the LWCF campaign for the Wilderness Society.

The reauthorization has general bipartisan support, she said, although some lawmakers who are “ideologically opposed” to the federal government in general and land management in particular have opposed the effort.

The three members of Delaware’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, back efforts to continue the LWCF.

“I think it’s crucial that we reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation fund,” Rep. John Carney said in a statement. “This fund not only helps protect our wildlife but also supports the state’s economy through recreation and tourism. In Delaware we see the impact of this program every year — from watching the migration of the red knots to fishing at Prime Hook with your family.

“The fund also shows the strength of public-private partnerships and the ability for federal dollars to be leveraged many times over. In Delaware, federal funds have been almost doubled by matching non-federal funds. These types of programs are critical to the continued success of conservation efforts in Delaware.”

BOMBAY HOOK EVENTS Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, which has been funded in part by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, will be honored with a state quarter, with a ceremony being held for the occasion today. The event will take place at the wildlife refuge visitor center at 2591 Whitehall Neck Road near Smyrna at 10 a.m. and last one hour. Attendees can exchange their cash for $10 rolls of newly minted Bombay Hook quarters. Tours also will be offered. Other events are scheduled to mark the unveiling. They include: • Saturday — Celebration with free entry, from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset • Oct. 17 — Celebration with free entry, from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset • Oct. 24 — Birdwatching basics in the morning from 9 a.m. to noon, with binoculars and field guides provided • Nov. 7 — Birds of prey, with display from 10 to 11 a.m., lecture from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and display from noon to 1 p.m., sponsored by Friends of Bombay Hook Inc. • Nov. 21 — Celebration with free entry, from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset • Nov. 21 — Bird identification from 1 to 4:30 p.m. • Nov. 28 — Bird identification from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. • Dec. 19 — Celebration with free entry, from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset For more information, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/bombay_hook/. Regular admission is $4 per car or motorcycle; $2 bike or hike.

BOMBAY HOOK EVENTS
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, which has been funded in part by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, will be honored with a state quarter, with a ceremony being held for the occasion today. The event will take place at the wildlife refuge visitor center at 2591 Whitehall Neck Road near Smyrna at 10 a.m. and last one hour.
Attendees can exchange their cash for $10 rolls of newly minted Bombay Hook quarters. Tours also will be offered. Other events are scheduled to mark the unveiling. They include:
• Saturday — Celebration with free entry, from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset
• Oct. 17 — Celebration with free entry, from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset
• Oct. 24 — Birdwatching basics in the morning from 9 a.m. to noon, with binoculars and field guides provided
• Nov. 7 — Birds of prey, with display from 10 to 11 a.m., lecture from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and display from noon to 1 p.m., sponsored by Friends of Bombay Hook Inc.
• Nov. 21 — Celebration with free entry, from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset
• Nov. 21 — Bird identification from 1 to 4:30 p.m.
• Nov. 28 — Bird identification from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Dec. 19 — Celebration with free entry, from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset
For more information, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/bombay_hook/. Regular admission is $4 per car or motorcycle; $2 bike or hike.

Matching state grants also allow for the creation of playgrounds and bike trails.

With the government facing a great deal of uncertainty as the possibility of an end-of-month government shutdown grows, the LWCF’s future is unknown. It could be restarted, but supporters hope the fund does not lapse.

“It is possible that individual projects could still move forward even if authorization lapses through regular appropriations process, but that doesn’t provide the sort of certainty for the future that is really necessary to get projects done,” Ms. Lindholm said.

He is one of 159 co-sponsors on a bill that would permanently fund the LWCF. Sen. Chris Coons has signed onto a similar piece of legislation.

In February, Sen. Tom Carper spoke on the Senate floor about continuing funding for some of the country’s “most treasured places.”

“I would welcome … legislation that not only reauthorizes the program but also better ensures that the revenues credited to the Land and Water Conservation Fund each year are no longer diverted but are used instead to meet more of our nation’s critical conservation needs,” he said.

Every state has seen reserves created or expanded through the LWCF, and Delaware would be impacted if the reauthorization was not granted.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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