Areas in the Santa Clarita Valley, such as the Angeles National Forest and Castaic Lake, could get conservation money if federal funding is made available next month.
The federal government’s Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has invested $2.4 billion in California since its creation in 1964, expires Sept. 30 for this fiscal year, and is eligible to reauthorize $900 million for the next.
That money isn’t always fully authorized by Congress, but whatever does come out of the fund goes toward grants that maintain public lands, said Jessica Mause, senior vice president of the public policy consulting firm Rodriguez Strategies, which is advocating for renewal of the fund.
The primary sources for funding are fees paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas, sales of federal lands and taxes on motorboat fuel, but the fund has rarely been fully funded, she said.
Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, has supported the congressional reauthorization bill.
“This isn’t just a fund,” he said. “This helps our parks, and areas around the mountains, areas that the Santa Clarita Valley values. It’s of the utmost importance.”
The fund’s size is determined each year based on Congress’ budget allocations and appropriations, Mause said.
Congress considers requests from different agencies that could be fulfilled by the conservation fund, but there is no legal obligation to allocate any specific amounts based on budgetary needs for each fiscal year, she said.
In the SCV specifically, Castaic Lake saw $883,564 in funding from 1976 to 1981. The money went toward parking lots, roads, walkways, campgrounds and picnic areas.
Knight’s congressional district, which includes the SCV, as well as Palmdale, Simi Valley and Lancaster, has seen almost $6.3 million in project funding since the fund’s inception.
There are not any specific projects funded in the SCV at this time, Knight said. But the fund is still considered vital for conservation that affects Santa Clarita residents.
“If it’s needed because we can see it in the SCV if it’s needed, then great,” he said. “But if it goes away, it affects everyone no matter what district you’re in. I don’t think this is something we can be shortsighted on.
“SCV folks love traveling and love these sites that the fund protects,” he said. “We’ve been a big supporter of our parks and public lands across the country, but here in California especially. I can tell you that if this isn’t there — and there needs to be these funds — then people will be up in arms about it all around.”
Katie Hill, Knight’s challenger in the 25th Congressional District, supported the conservation efforts.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund plays a critical role in growing and maintaining our parks and forests,” she said. “I support the re-authorization of the LWCF by the Sept. 30 deadline. We all benefit from the preservation of public lands and need to continue to invest in them, and we all want to enjoy the natural beauty of our wildlife preserves.”
Other parts of the SCV that could use the conservation fund include its small portions of the Angeles Forest, and the Pacific Crest Trail that runs through the West Coast, Mause said.
“The cascading benefits are it drives an outdoor economy,” said Christine Tamara, the San Bernardino County project coordinator for the Hispanic Access Foundation, which recently showed a film highlighting the conservation fund at The Canyon in Valencia.
“Ultimately, the LWCF adds to the tourism of California, and serves for the creation of outdoor spaces,” she said.” We’ve seen how this has contributed to the development of open space in areas such as Santa Clarita and others.”
Projects that have received funding before, such as Castaic Lake, are eligible for more money if they apply for grants once the reauthorized amount for the next fiscal year is available, Mause said.
Congress has rarely funded the program at its full authorized level of $900 million per year. Through the years, a total of more than $20 billion has been diverted to unrelated programs.