In 1964, the Congress and President Lyndon Johnson performed a great service to the American people when they established the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Land, water, and conservation: simple terms that, when combined, speak directly to who we are as a people.
We have not always been as vigilant as we should be to conserve our nation’s natural resources, as evidenced by the mass clearcutting of eastern forests in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the dust bowl era of the 1930s. But even if we have to play catch-up, time after time we show, through laws like the Land and Water Conservation Act, that we do care about our land and water, and the wild things that depend on them.
My job is to oversee the purchase of lands for national wildlife refuges in the 13 northeast states using the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Reflecting back on the work of our current and former land protection staff, it is gratifying to see the amazing results of our efforts, in partnership with thousands of landowners who have helped leave a lasting legacy for all Americans.
Over 50 national wildlife refuges in our northeast states were established or have grown because of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. With these funds, more than 160,000 acres in the densely-populated northeast are now permanently protected as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the fate of these valuable fish and wildlife habitats would be in jeopardy. These lands and waters not only support hundreds of migratory bird species, and many threatened and endangered species of fish, wildlife and plants, but are also available for recreation and education, making these purchases a wise investment in our future.
We have many “greats” in our region: Great Swamp, home to the first Wilderness Area designated on Department of the Interior lands; Great Meadows, serving the urban and suburban population of Boston; and Great Dismal Swamp, our region’s largest refuge at over 100,000 acres, once surveyed by George Washington. History plays an important role in many refuges as evidenced by native American names such as Massasoit, Missisquoi, and Rappahannock. We honor conservation heroes like Rachel Carson, Congressman Silvio O. Conte and Senator John H. Chafee, who said if he was reincarnated, he wanted to come back as a Fish and Wildlife Service employee! We would have loved to have had him in the ranks.
If you have visited our 50+ refuges that have lands purchased with the Land and Water Conservation Fund, you know first-hand how important these funds are. You may have watched your child catch his or her first fish, or learned the skill of hunting from your grandfather. You may have gone on a field trip to learn about the fish and wildlife in the place where you live, or seen your first bald eagle diving for a catch. You may have seen tens of thousands of waterfowl take flight at dawn or a lone great blue heron stalking the marshes. If you haven’t, you still can, thanks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the foresight of our nation’s leaders who made it happen 50 years ago.