Protecting invaluable lands Federal acquisitions: Congress should use fat land conservation fund for its intended purpose.


MARYLAND would benefit significantly from the president's plan to spend $700 million to acquire private pockets of "irreplaceable lands" in the nation's parks, forests and other public lands.

Land adjacent to Antietam and Monocacy Civil War battlefields and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, as well as scattered Maryland links in the Appalachian Trail, would be purchased.

The money was authorized in the 1998 balanced budget agreement. But months after President Clinton submitted a list of 100 natural and historic sites for acquisition from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, key lawmakers are refusing to release the funds.

They want to change some sites and use the money for maintenance projects, a perilous path of delay for protecting sensitive private lands that impatient owners might sell to developers.

Since the conservation fund was created in 1964, fed by offshore oil and gas royalties, more than half the proceeds have been used for other purposes -- mainly as offset funds to hide the size of the federal budget deficit. There's $11 billion available. The $700 million outlay is less than the $900 million in annual royalties to the fund.

More than half the money will go to complete purchase of a gold mine that threatens Yellowstone National Park and to protect the Headwaters ancient redwood grove in California. The rest will go to projects in 35 states, including $15 million for acquisition of the remaining 33 miles of segments along 2,158-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia.

Maryland would add 2,000 acres threatened by timbering to Blackwater refuge in Dorchester County, acquire the historic Roulette Farm at Antietam and save a 240-acre tract in the heart of the Monocacy battlefield near Frederick.

The money is in hand; the need is evident. It's past time for Washington to use the conservation fund for its intended purpose.

! Pub date: 5/24/98

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