U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) voted in support of the Natural Resources Management Act, bipartisan legislation that includes a wide range of public lands, natural resources, and water measures. Among the measures included in the bill—which passed the Senate by a vote of 92 to 8—is legislation Senator Capito co-sponsored to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
“West Virginia is fortunate to have so much natural beauty and so many valuable natural resources, and this legislation will help us maintain and preserve them for generations to come,” Senator Capito said. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is an important part of protecting our public lands and maintaining access to some of our state’s most beautiful and treasured destinations. I’ve been a strong and long-time supporter of the program, and we have now taken an important step in providing resources and certainty to the sites and lands it helps protect. I’m also excited that this legislative package includes a measure I supported to establish the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area in West Virginia. These and other measures will help preserve important parts of our state, contribute to our economic potential, and ensure the Mountain State remains one of the most beautiful in the country.”
The Natural Resources Management Act reflects the bipartisan Senate-House agreement reached near the end of the last Congress to bundle together more than 100 individual lands bills. The bipartisan package strikes a balance between creating new opportunities for natural resource and community development with limited, locally-supported conservation. It will improve public lands management, protect landscapes, and increase public access for recreation while protecting private property rights.
The legislation will:
Permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with key reforms to strengthen its state-side programs.
Establish the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area in several parts of West Virginia—including Barbour, Braxton, Grant, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, Morgan, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, Upshur, and Webster counties.
Increase access and opportunities for sportsmen for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities on federal lands.
Provide for economic development in dozens of communities through land exchanges and conveyances.
Conserve lands of special importance, provided that such protections are supported by the affected state and surrounding communities.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, secured the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the national designation of the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area and an increase in the funding cap for the Wheeling National Heritage Area as part of Natural Resources Management Act.
“West Virginia has a rich cultural history and at the core of that is our deep appreciation for the natural wonders we are blessed with. Our little state is as wild as it is wonderful and we take great pride in our access to the great outdoors. I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to finally permanently reauthorize LWCF so our land management agencies can operate fully and without the fear of losing access to the funding they rely on. The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area is a treasure in Randolph County and this national designation is long overdue,” Senator Manchin said.
“By reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, this bill supports West Virginia’s heritage and outdoor recreation economy and keeps faith with the important idea that America’s outdoors and public lands are part of who we are as a nation,” said Angie Rosser, Executive Director of West Virginia Rivers.
LWCF is a conservation tool that ensures states and federal public land management agencies are able to protect and conserve our natural resources without relying on taxpayer dollars. In West Virginia, LWCF funded the acquisitions of the Gauley River National Recreation Area, New River Gorge National River and Dolly Sods. Since 1965, more than $243 million in LWCF funds have been spent in West Virginia on more than 500 projects, both on state and federal lands. This includes improvements to local parks and public spaces in 54 of West Virginia’s 55 counties.
National Heritage Areas (NHA) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. The Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area has been operating as an ad hoc NHA for more than a decade. By providing the official NHA designation, the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area can earn the national recognition it deserves, and is now also eligible for grants and technical assistance from the National Park Service. This will take their programmatic efforts and other services they provide to the region to the next level.
The legislation also increases the funding cap for the Wheeling National Heritage Area in Wheeling. By increasing the funding cap, the Wheeling National Heritage Area can continue to compete for grant money from the National Park Service. Since its establishment in 2001, the Wheeling National Heritage Area has received approximately $12 million in funds and will reach its cap of $13 million in the next two years. According to a 2017 economic impact study, the Wheeling National Heritage Area generates $86.6 million in economic impacts in the Wheeling region. This includes support for 1,109 jobs and $6.4 million in tax revenue. By providing a modest cap increase, the Wheeling National Heritage Area can continue its vital role as an economic driver in West Virginia.
The Natural Resources Management Act also:
Adds over 367 miles of rivers to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System
Adds over 2,600 miles of new trails to the National Trails System
Designates 694,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas
Increases the size of our National Parks by over 42,000 acres
Provides direction to all federal departments and agencies to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting, fishing and recreational shooting opportunities on federal lands