By Mary Kuhlman
INDIANAPOLIS - Conservation groups are not giving up their fight to continue a program that supports some of the natural crown jewels of Indiana and the nation.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which protects national parks and other lands including Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Hoosier National Forest, was allowed to expire last week by Congress. Amy Lindholm, director of the Wilderness Society's Land and Water Conservation Fund campaign, said one of the reasons the fund has been successful for the past 50 years is because it's not funded by taxpayer dollars.
"It's funded by a small portion of offshore oil and gas royalties," she said, "in a very kind of elegant arrangement of drawing down one asset that belongs to the American public and reinvesting a small piece of the profit from that in a permanent asset for the American public."
The fund also prevented private development inside the borders of national parks and forests and provided support for many state and local projects. Some opponents of extended funding say the program placed too much priority on federal projects and land acquisition, and should be reformed to focus on other needs such as lands management.
The fund originally was signed into law in 1965 and reauthorized for another 25 years in 1990. Lindholm said it only became a subject of disagreement a short time ago.
"It has become a political football in recent years," she said, "because of a very small minority of folks who basically have an ideological opposition to federal land in general and who have seized upon the Land and Water Conservation Fund as a way to talk about the federal government owning too much land."
Over the past 40 years, Indiana has received approximately $197 million in Land and Water Conservation funding.