The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund made possible the preservation of the Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Milford. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Hunting and fishing are American traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. These activities help to bond families, neighbors and communities in the shared experience that comes from enjoying the great outdoors.

All responsible hunters and anglers know that for these pastimes to have a future, we must conserve important areas of habitat and ensure funding is available to secure public access to public lands for all Americans. One important tool we have for achieving these goals is the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund helps ensure future generations of Americans will have the same opportunities to enjoy our nation’s outdoors that we enjoy today. The program achieves this by funding projects that protect public land, water and wildlife and expand public access. Unfortunately, the program is under threat. It has been underfunded for decades, and some politicians in Washington want to zero out all funding for this successful program.

I’ve been hunting and fishing all my life. When I go into the backcountry, I seek quietness where I can find freedom, solitude, the biggest bulls and bucks, the cleanest water and the best fishing. These are the places that make us truly feel alive, and I want future generations to feel that, too. Elected leaders like Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have already stepped up on behalf of the American people to support full and dedicated funding for this program.

Congress has taken a great first step to advance conservation and establish publicly accessible recreation sites by permanently reauthorizing the program, but without secure funding, the program could languish. That funding comes from offshore energy development at no cost to American taxpayers, and the dollars invested provide a 4-to-1 return. Put simply, funding this is a no-brainer.

The program has successfully supported tens of thousands of parks and outdoor recreation projects in every congressional district across the country — and it fuels the fast-growing $887 billion annual outdoor recreation economy. More than 40,000 projects have been completed over the program’s 50-plus year history, including, for example, the conservation of 2.3 million acres of national forest land. Right here in Maine, this program has contributed to the protection of Acadia National Park and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and helps fuel the $8.2 billion annual outdoor recreation economy in the state. Just last week, Maine received $1.6 million in funds from it.

Maine is the most forested state in the lower 48, but only 6 percent of this land is deemed public. The permanent reauthorizing of funding for the program would greatly benefit our 1.3 million residents and our rural economy and those who visit our state. I’ve spent a decade exploring the wilds of Maine as a Registered Maine Guide and contribute to the $8.2 billion outdoor recreation economy. I strongly believe that we should protect more places for future generations to hunt, fish and recreate in our great state.

Our public lands, waters and wildlife form the heart of communities across the country — the places where families and neighbors create memories and traditions. Projects funded by this program are investments in our future.

Now is the time for our leaders in Congress to fight to fund it, especially during appropriations negotiations when lawmakers are making critical funding decisions. This program has consistently drawn strong bipartisan support in Congress, and earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed its permanent authorization into law. We know that full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund can be advanced by Congress — and we know that the program is a massive benefit to American communities, for ours and generations to come.

Scott Overbey of Brunswick is the East Coast district manager for Patagonia and a Registered Maine Guide.