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Know the West

Land and water conservation fund vital to wilderness

  The Wilderness Act celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, loudly and publicly. This year, the 40th anniversary of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is going nearly unnoticed, and the fund remains under constant threat (HCN, 5/2/05: As threats loom, conservation dollars disappear).

This money is vital to the future of public lands in the United States. Funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund does not mean the vast expansion of federal ownership, creeping out of Western mountain ranges to interfere with private rights. Typically, it pays for private lands that owners want to make part of the public estate: lands that are inholdings or adjacent to now scarce and preserved land.

There remain an estimated 400,000 acres of privately owned lands within our designated wilderness areas. These private lands retain the right to develop, timber, mine, build roads and extend utilities. Some owners are excellent stewards, some are not. But all private lands are intrusions into wild places where we are meant to be just visitors.

This year, we can all celebrate the Land and Water Conservation Fund by making sure our representatives know that it is important to us, to future generations and to private inholders who wish to do the right thing, and pass their lands on to the public.

Reid Haughey, President
The Wilderness Land Trust
Carbondale, Colorado