As Californians, we are fortunate to enjoy some of the most breathtaking landscapes and pristine wilderness in the country, from Muir Woods in the north of our state to the Santa Monica Mountains in the south. The continued preservation of these and many other sites of great natural beauty across California and the United States is thanks to wise investments made through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
Funded by royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on federal lands, the LWCF provides matching grants to states and local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities without using a penny of tax dollars. These grants are also an investment in our economy. Outdoor recreation contributed $46 billion, including $28.1 million in retail sales and services, to California's economy this year, and this economic activity supports approximately 408,000 jobs throughout the state.
Given California's and our nation's unemployment rate, it's all the more disturbing that Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund this year. If successful, their actions will not be without consequences; cuts to the LWCF risk further damage to our state's fragile economy and the communities that depend on revenue generated by outdoor recreation. Many of these communities already suffer from high unemployment, and cutting off funding for projects that help create jobs is unconscionable.
The debate around conservation funding will soon become critical as Congress gears up for the final steps in the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations process. In the Senate, a draft version of the bill that funds the Interior Department, including the LWCF, was recently released and established the Senate's priorities for the agency. We recently sent a letter with 30 of our colleagues to Senators Feinstein and Boxer letting them know that California House Democrats stand with them against attempts to undermine these essential investments in our natural heritage.
We have entered a dangerous period for the future of public lands in California and across the nation. Congressional Republicans are intent on undermining our ability to safeguard irreplaceable landscapes and advancing legislation that will result in paving wilderness with development, polluting our clean air and water, and cutting funding for ball fields, playgrounds and national parks statewide.
In the days and weeks ahead, we will keep fighting to preserve California's natural heritage. Protecting the great outdoors is good for our economy, helps create jobs, and ensures that the scenic landscapes that millions of people enjoy in California each year will be here for generations to come.
Rep. Honda represents California's 15th district, and Rep. Roybal-Allard serves California's 34th district. Follow Rep. Honda on Facebook and Twitter. This Op-Ed first appeared THE HILL's Congress Blog on 10/28/11.
Follow Rep. Mike Honda on Twitter: www.twitter.com/repmikehonda