Originally published Friday, September 16, 2011 at 4:01 PM

Guest columnist

The Elwha offers model of collaboration and shrewd investment

This weekend, two dams on the Elwha River will be taken down, beginning the process of restoring the river and fish runs. Guest columnist Dan Evans writes about how one partner in this years-long process — the Land and Water Conservation Fund — is imperiled by the federal budget battle.

Special to The Times

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I'VE chased a few of Washington's large king salmon and love to fish, but the greatest consequence of the Elwha river restoration may not be the return of a healthy salmon population. Along with unimpeded passage for salmon as they once again follow their genetic road map upstream, a hugely significant result of the Elwha Dam removal will be the economic benefits generated by tourists and sportsmen lured to the river banks.

The river restoration will be a boost to both the Elwha's salmon and the community, a rare combination that is the result of an unmatched story of partnership. The effort to restore the Elwha is the product of more than 20 years of planning and collaboration among U.S. presidents on both sides of the aisle, Congress, state, local and tribal governments, sportsmen and business, state and local leaders.

This may be the largest dam-removal project in American history, but it is also a superlative example of what America can accomplish for our communities, our economy and our environment when partisanship is replaced by partnership.

When the project is celebrated this weekend in Port Angeles, these committed champions will be on hand to celebrate the occasion and this unique place.

I first explored Washington's great outdoors as a Boy Scout on a hike in the Olympic Mountains. That trip inspired a lifelong love of our state's wild places, which my wife Nancy and I have tried to instill in our boys and our grandchildren. Olympic National Park is a family favorite, and it is from these mountains that the Elwha flows north — soon to be uninterrupted in its journey toward the Pacific Ocean.

One partner you may not hear much about is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Congress created the LWCF 45 years ago to protect America's land and waterways — all without taxpayer money. Instead, it relies entirely on fees paid by oil and gas companies drilling offshore. Over the last four decades, Washington has received $513 million to protect national parks like Mount Rainier and North Cascades, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, forests, wildlife refuges, timberlands and ranches. LWCF matching grants have also created state and local parks, ballfields and natural areas across the state.

Few may realize that $30 million from LWCF invested in restoring the Elwha River in the late 1990s provided the means for the National Park Service to acquire the dam facility and surrounding lands.

For these reasons, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has called LWCF "a keystone of modern-day conservation in America." Washington's sportsmen, small-business owners, ranchers, conservationists and local elected officials laud the benefits of these non-taxpayer-funded investments for our water supplies, wildlife habitat, quality of life and our state's $12 billion annual active outdoor recreation economy.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress doesn't seem to get the message about the value of this public-private partnership. It has been proposed that all oil and gas fees intended for the Land and Water Conservation Fund be redirected this year and spent elsewhere. In these difficult budget times, no program is immune from reasonable cuts. But a politically driven plan to slash funding to unprecedented levels will only hurt our communities, our economy and our environment.

Fortunately, Washington has champions who know better, and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Norm Dicks and Dave Reichert have been particularly stalwart advocates of the Fund. We need their continued leadership, and that of the president, who has pledged to fully fund LWCF by 2014, during the budget battles that lie ahead in Washington, D.C.

President Theodore Roosevelt's words offer wisdom for all of us: "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."

Dan Evans was Washington governor from 1965 to 1977, U.S. senator from 1983-89 and a founding co-chair of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.


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