By Angelina Ricci Eisenhauer for The Island Eye News
U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham met with representatives from Audubon South Carolina and Conservation Voters of South Carolina July 16 to discuss the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide $9.5 billion to address a maintenance backlog at national parks at no additional cost to taxpayers.
The group talked about HR 1957 at the Pitt Street Bridge in Mount Pleasant, one of numerous LWCF-funded sites in South Carolina and a popular spot to exercise and get an up-close look at the numerous bird species that rely on the habitat, including piping plovers, bald eagles and American oystercatchers.
“Outdoor recreation supports more than 150,000 jobs in South Carolina and is a huge economic driver in our area, so our team is very proud of our work on this,” said Cunningham.
“I think the first district should be proud, too, that we are leading the charge on this important bill, which is going to be passed in the House and ultimately signed into law.”
The bill passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 73 to 25 in mid-June, with the support of South Carolina Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott. Cunningham has been a vocal champion for the House bill, which was expected to come up for a vote before the end of July.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund makes it possible to preserve and maintain areas like the Pitt Street Bridge, which is not only valuable habitat for vulnerable birds like the Salt Marsh Sparrow but also an amazing draw and escape for people,” said Jen Tyrrell, Audubon South Carolina’s bird-friendly communities coordinator. “Amid this pandemic, I think people have more appreciation than ever for beautiful, accessible spaces like these.”
A 2018 study led by the National Audubon Society and National Park Service underscored the need to safeguard and manage protected lands for birds and wildlife, which face unprecedented threats amid a changing climate and pressure from development. A fully-funded LWCF is essential to helping realize this goal.
“The LWCF has provided funds to every one of South Carolina’s 46 counties,” said Natalie Olson, campaigns director for Conservation Voters of SC.
“Whether it’s using waters on public lands to put fish on their table, having access to lands for hunting or simply safeguarding the clean air and water that families need – every resident of South Carolina stands to benefit from a fully-funded LWCF.”
Originally adopted by Congress in 1964, LWCF uses a small portion of the royalties from pre-existing offshore oil and gas leases for land protection and recreation for national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and more. The fund has brought an investment of some $295 million to the state of South Carolina over the last 50 years, including funding for properties such as Fort Sumter National Monument and the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge.