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Editorial: Preservation continues to benefit all

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act and the creation of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, laws that have helped preserve the environment and keep America beautiful. Both have made New Hampshire, and every other state, more liveable by protecting watersheds, preserving wild lands and creating urban parks.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund in particular, because it can or has touched every community, affects local economies and the way people live their daily lives. In Concord alone, the fund has helped pay to acquire Memorial Field, Everett Arena and Contoocook River Park, and to develop Beaver Meadow municipal golf course, Eagle Square and White Park, among others. Nationally, money from the fund – which comes from royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling – has helped protect California’s Big Sur, the area around Yellowstone National Park and other national treasures.

Since 1965, the fund has helped pay for more than 41,000 separate acquisitions or projects. Much more could have been accomplished had Congress not raided the fund routinely – to the tune of $18 billion – to help defray the deficit.

The conservation fund, which is slated to expire next year, deserves renewal.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte are among the many members of Congress who are lobbying for the fund to be extended or made permanent, and for its revenues to be used for conservation purposes as intended. We strongly support their efforts.

The Wilderness Act has less of an effect on the daily lives of most citizens, but its value is also enormous. It has been responsible for the preservation of more than 109 million acres of wilderness, land destined to be left undeveloped for future generations to enjoy in its natural state.

New Hampshire is fortunate to have six protected wilderness areas: the Pemigewasset, Sandwich Range, Wild River, Great Gulf, Caribou Speckled Mountain and Presidential Range-Dry River wildernesses. Together they total more than 140,000 acres that are off limits to permanent roads and structures, and protected from mining and logging, but open to hiking and other forms of nonmotorized recreation.

When he signed the Wilderness Act, President Lyndon Johnson said: “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” Amen to that.

The next Congress will take up the renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and decide whether to designate as wilderness more of America’s special places. We urge every member of New Hampshire’s delegation to remember that while others will claim that protecting land locks up oil an other natural resources, there is tremendous value in parkland and wilderness. That’s particularly true in New Hampshire.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group, outdoor recreation supports 49,000 New Hampshire jobs and accounts for $4.2 billion in consumer spending. “In wildness is not only the preservation of the world,” as Henry David Thoreau said, but the preservation of New Hampshire’s economic well-being as well.

Between them, the Wilderness Act and the conservation fund make it possible for people to re-create themselves in the splendor and solitude of wild lands, or enjoy a bit of the outdoors in the heart of the city in parks paid for by the fund. They are congressional accomplishments that deserve to endure.

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