Maine Voices: As stewards of God’s creation, we must protect America’s public lands
The Land and Water Conservation Fund – which uses no taxpayer dollars – should receive a full and permanent federal appropriation.
By Jane Field Special to the Press Herald, October 5, 2019
Preserving the land for the benefit of all God’s children and creatures, as well as for future generations, is a sacred covenant entrusted to each of us. This belief, rooted in Hebrew and Christian scriptures, is shared by the seven member denominations of the Maine Council of Churches. And it is a belief that motivated Maine religious leaders to make the trek to Washington, D.C., recently to urge Congress to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
LWCF has been a bedrock conservation tool for expanding access to public lands and water, cultural heritage sites and outdoor spaces for over 50 years. Using zero taxpayer dollars, LWCF is funded by a portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing and it has helped preserve our national endowment of lands and waters – state and local parks, farmland, ranches, forests, National Parks, wildlife refuges, trails and other public lands – throughout the United States, including right here in Maine where our local and state parks are maintained with the help of LWCF.
Maine public lands – from local parks to state lands to national parks – have all benefited from LWCF. Acadia National Park and Saddleback Mountain are protected with the help of LWCF monies. Funds also have gone to state parks such as Popham Beach State Park and local parks such as Rangeley Town Park and Dundee Park in Windham.
These public lands in Maine provide for us economically through tourism but also provide for us spiritually. In addition to opportunities for recreation, Acadia National Park offers place and space for prayer and worship, including services in the Blackwoods or Seawall Campgrounds. In Wilton’s Kineowatha Park, which has benefited from an LWCF grant, congregations have joined together to offer outdoor worship services and spiritual reflection. These examples highlight the importance of public lands not just for recreation and economic benefit but for their ability to help us connect with each other and our Creator.
But today our national monuments and public lands are at risk.
LWCF is chronically underfunded, and another year without full funding is another year that our commitment to be good stewards of God’s creation and expand community access to the outdoors erodes even further. Earlier this year LWCF was reauthorized with bipartisan support, but simply reauthorizing the program does nothing to create more access to public lands or make investments in our communities. Those things require funding. And each year that LWCF goes without funding is another year that our nation’s commitment to public lands and expanding outdoor access for communities erodes even further.
National monuments and other public lands tell our stories better than any historian or history book could. Here in Maine, from Acadia National Park to the Appalachian Trail, where tourists, children and families make invaluable memories, these sites make up our collective narrative – a narrative that is now at risk.
As a leader in the religious community, I know firsthand the value of spiritual connection to the land. I also know the importance in these divisive times of nurturing those causes that can weave us together in shared community. Maine’s public lands do just that.
There is power in our stories and we have much to learn from the ground that lies beneath our feet. We have an obligation to preserve the extraordinary sites that the LWCF protects – for the sake of our children, for the sake of the creatures with whom we share this fragile Earth and for the sake of generations to come. We cannot wait any longer. It is critical that Congress fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund now.