Deer Creek Falls and fish ladder, near Highway 32 in Tehema County, California.
Deer Creek Falls and fish ladder, near Highway 32 in Tehema County, California.

In an era where the oil and gas drilling industries are lobbying heavily at the federal, state and local levels against oil and gas extraction fees, last week's announcement from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) may serve as a reminder of just how important and vital these fees can be. In 2011, over 40 million dollars worth of land acquisition purchases were made using oil and gas extraction fees. Lands were acquired in Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington as part of an an ongoing program established in 1965.

Each year, four federal agencies -- the USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management -- identify high value land acquisition targets recommended for purchase. To date, over 7 million acres have been purchased. The lands are purchased with the goal of providing recreational opportunities, protecting scenic landscapes, preserving wildlife habitat, protecting clean water and enhancing the public's overall quality of life.

The list of the the LCWF's historic accomplishments include the addition of 5,000 of ocean-front property to the Big Sur ecosystem, the purchase of over 150,000 acres along the Appalachian trail system (helping to protect 98% of the trail corridor) and the identification and ongoing acquisition of critical fish habitats in the Pacific Northwest. According to the LCWF, "more than 37,000 acres of riverbanks, upland forests, salt-marshes and other properties have been acquired using LWCF funds, providing key habitat not only to fish but also bald eagles, peregrine falcons, seabirds, shellfish, waterfowl and a host of other plant and animal species."

Among the 2011 highlights is an acquisition of land that is now part of Lassen National Forest. The acquisition is said to extend protection of fish and wildlife habitat along 30 miles of Deer Creek, a dam-free stream that is one of the top salmon producers in the Sacramento Basin. The land was purchased at the price of $1.5 million.