The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund made possible the preservation of the Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Milford, Maine. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Flickr via Creative Commons (htt

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a federal program that every American should be able to support wholeheartedly. These are dedicated funds that exist outside of general taxpayer dollars and go to supporting public lands, open spaces and ensure that Americans have the ability to hike, fish and enjoy the outdoors for generations to come. The funding comes from taxes paid by oil companies on offshore drilling projects and ensure that we can make these improvements without relying on individual taxpayers.

The kinds of programs that LWCF supports are critical to veterans like me who have returned from the battlefield. As veterans return home, that transition can be extremely difficult. I, and many of my fellow servicemen and women, have benefited during that transition from finding purpose and solitude in America’s great public lands. LWCF funding ensures that these public lands will be available for generations of veterans to come, and will help to create more opportunities for getting men and women who have served our nation into the outdoors.

This funding for LWCF has already gained something that is increasingly rare in our country these days — bipartisan support in the United States Senate. A new bill with many co-sponsors from both parties that would ensure permanent funding for LWCF was introduced in the Senate this month. As it currently stands, even though the money has been set aside by the federal government for these purposes, it must still be appropriated every year as part of our country’s increasingly contentious spending packages. This new bill would mean that we no longer have to fight for this funding year after year.

But for now, those fights are part of our reality. Even though there is more than $900 million raised each year from taxes on offshore drilling, only $425 million is currently being appropriated for LWCF projects each year. It is my hope that with Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and the Appropriations process, that they will see that there is no downside to providing additional money for LWCF. The funds are already set aside and the work that gets done as a result of these funds can have a tremendous impact on our communities and quality of life.

Congress has a chance to get an easy win and make real progress on protecting our public lands and creating opportunities for Americans to get outdoors. All of this can be done without raising taxes or creating more partisan conflict on the Hill.

Our local representative, Rep. Chellie Pingree, has a massive role to play in this process. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, she can make a meaningful impact on ensuring that we see more of our available funds invested in programs that benefit our public lands, waters, and outdoor spaces. Increasing that funding towards the full amount that is available is an easy step that Pingree should lead the way on.

Douglas Rawlings of Portland is a veteran of the Vietnam War.