If you’ve ever used a state fishing access site to get onto the Missouri River, hunted pheasant or ducks in our famed Prairie Pothole region, or relaxed with your family at a city park, swimming pool or playground, you’ve benefitted from a little-known but hugely important program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

LWCF was created by Congress in 1965 to direct a portion of offshore oil and gas drilling royalties to protection of our parks, forests, wildlife habitat and historic sites. Throughout its history, LWCF has changed and evolved to more effectively provide important, lasting, and tangible benefits to our country – benefits that are central to our way of life here in South Dakota.

Shockingly, despite the importance of this fund the US House of Representatives has just proposed eliminating all funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

One of these authors, Lois Ries the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau director here in the Pierre area, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to impress upon our congressional delegation the importance of LWCF for our economy and quality of life. All of our congressional members here in South Dakota care deeply about the quality of life in our state. We need them to stand up for full, dedicated funding for this program that has invested so much in our state.

Outdoor recreation is essential to the Pierre area local economy. People support our local businesses because of our unmatched natural beauty, because they are coming through town on hunting or fishing trips or on their way to enjoy the Black Hills.

The fund has helped rebuild the Pierre area’s recreation areas after the recent Missouri River floods, and additional funding will be needed to fully recover damaged lake access points from here to Elk Point. Missouri River recreation is a significant economic resource for our communities and the LWCF has funded a variety of outdoor facilities to help us access the river.

In addition to the Missouri River areas, LWCF has also protected state icons like the Black Hills, Wind Cave National Park and the Sand Lake and Karl Mundt National Wildlife refuges.

Efforts are underway to conserve Prairie Pothole Region grassland and wetland resources using LWCF dollars in concert with willing landowners who are interested in land and water stewardship easements and conservation planning on their properties. The Dakota Grasslands Conservation Project allows them to “farm the best and conserve the rest” – certainly an important step in the right direction to continue South Dakota’s claim as the “Pheasant Capital of the World!”

The new Good Earth State Park at Blood Run near Sioux Falls, which Gov. Dennis Daugaard dedicated last week, was made possible by LWCF. This new state park, which is within 10 miles of downtown Sioux Falls, is being lauded as a powerful economic development tool for both the city and the region. The conservation of our state’s rich natural, scenic and historic heritage is essential to our sense of pride in and history in South Dakota.

We strongly support full and dedicated funding for the LWCF program and urge our congressional members to do the same – it makes sense to invest these funds as Congress initially intended.

Lois Ries, director, Pierre Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and John Cooper, former secretary, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

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