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What Would Lady Bird Do?

Texas! What better place to talk about the next fifty years of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This is the home turf of Lyndon B. Johnson, the president who signed the original law back in 1965. LBJ had a strong record of caring for the nation’s natural resources, but it is no secret that he was inspired to do so by one of great conservation figures of the 20th century, his wife Lady Bird Johnson. Today he is commemorated in the Lone Star state with a presidential library and the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Site. Lady Bird has left Texans with a living legacy, Austin’s Town Lake, now Lady Bird Lake, and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, a leading center of sustainable green practices.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird.

The Lands and Water Conservation Fund has done a great deal of good. Funding acquisition of public lands for the National Park Service and other federal agencies and allocating much needed matching funds to state’s for parks and outdoor recreation projects. The state of Texas alone has received over $177 million dollars. Some of it even went to fund the development of Ladybird Lake’s outstanding trail system.

However, 1979 marked the high water mark of funding for Land and Water for both the Federal government and State programs and the program was completely zeroed out during the Reagan years. For decades, the conservation community has launched campaign after campaign to re-fund LWCF with only modest results. These stresses have taken their toll on the relationship between the federal and state partners, who have to share in the limited funds from the LWCF pie, with the state partners represented by NASORLO* and NASPD** on one side of the table and the federal side represented most recently by the Land and Water Coalition on the other. There was annual jostling for limited dollars.

So it is no wonder that when a recent opportunity for more funding came with a new funding formula that seemed to favor one side more than the other, well there was a lot to talk about. At the recent NASRLO annual meeting Oct 1-4 in Austin, state representatives met to hash out the issues past and present. Mickey Fearn, Deputy Director of the National Park Service, asked everyone to think about the future “What would we all want the LWCF to look like if we were inventing it today?”

Now that is a good question and we all might take a lesson from Ladybird. Work locally, share the wisdom, and seek powerful allies.

* NASORLO – National Association of State Liaison Officers http://www.nasorlo.org/

** NASPD – National Association of State Park Directors http://www.naspd.org/