Land and Water Conservation Fund expires #electionsmatter

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

A long-running conservation fund that helped to fund the creation of numerous parks and trails in the Roaring Fork Valley was allowed to expire on Wednesday, a casualty of Congress’ inability to agree on a long-term budget.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was not included in recently passed legislation that will only keep the government running until Dec. 11.

The fund’s expiration is a “significant loss for citizens across the country,” says a statement released Thursday by the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop.

“The LWCF pays for recreation and conservation projects at no cost to the American taxpayer,” the statement says. “Congressional inaction is unacceptable and is a disservice to the public.”

Will Roush, conservation director for WW, said the opposition to the fund’s continuance came from a small group of congressmen led by Utah Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

The fund typically receives bipartisan support in Congress and by itself would likely have been continued. But by being part of the larger bill, it was sacrificed…

At the state level, the LWCF subsidizes pools, parks, baseball diamonds and trail systems, WW’s statement says. Colorado has received close to $250 million in funding since the LWCF’s inception. On the federal level, it focuses on land acquisition, especially private inholdings located within national parks and forests.

The LWCF has long been in the crosshairs of Bishop, who would like to see ownership of federal lands be handed over to the states. The ideology stems from what has been coined a new “Sagebrush Rebellion,” a movement propped up by conservative nonprofit organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the American Lands Council.

Bishop has said he won’t support any proposal that looks to place more land under federal ownership.

“Both Republicans and Democrats support the original intent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but the program has drifted far from the original intent,” Bishop said last week in a press release. “Any reauthorization of LWCF will, among other improvements, prioritize local communities as originally intended.”

Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis have come out in support of the fund.

“The LWCF is one of the most critical tools we have for protecting our nation’s natural treasures,” said Gardner, a Republican, in a recent prepared statement. “Its permanent reauthorization is supported by sportsmen, hunters and many other Coloradans who appreciate the outdoors. It’s a responsible fiscal partnership and provides countless benefits. I’ve supported making the LWCF’s authorization permanent throughout my time in the Senate, and I will continue to work toward making that goal a reality.”

Bennet echoed Gardner’s call for reauthorization, saying urban and rural communities throughout Colorado benefit from the fund.

“This program is a crucial tool that has been used to help preserve dozens of landscapes across Colorado,” he said in a statement last week. “There is strong bipartisan support for the LWCF, and we’re extremely disappointed that reauthorization was not included in the funding bill.”

Bennet said the fund should have been renewed before it expired “to ensure that future generations of Coloradans will continue to enjoy these areas.”

In all, 214 congressional representatives of both parties have signed a letter in support of reauthorizing the LWCF, the WW statement says.

Roush said that while there are no current projects in the Roaring Fork Valley that will be affected by the fund’s expiration, two other projects in Colorado could be in jeopardy.

Those are one looking to attain conservation agreements in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to protect wildlife habitat and another on the Colorado-New Mexico border along the Continental Divide that seeks to acquire land for trail connections.

“This is a sad moment for conservation and recreation across the country,” Roush noted in the WW statement. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of the country’s greatest conservation programs, protecting iconic landscapes and provided recreational opportunities in people’s back yards, all at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Enacted in 1965, the fund uses revenues from offshore oil and gas extraction to support conservation efforts protecting land and water. It’s supposed to claim around $900 million in revenues annually, but that figure varies greatly as Congress often reappropriates its funding elsewhere.

“The money is intended to create and protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects,” the fund’s website says.

The LWCF has furthered projects in Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks. It also has provided funding for projects at Colorado National Monument, Ruby Canyon National Conservation Area, the White River National Forest, and the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests.

Thirty-six percent of land in Colorado is under federal ownership, and managed by a combination of the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Energy. Federal lands make up 83 percent of Pitkin County.

“It’s heartening to see Sens. Bennet and Gardner and Rep. Polis fight hard for this important program,” Roush said. “It’s clear they understand the value of conserving land to Coloradans and to our economies, which are so connected to public lands, recreation and wild places. I only hope that their colleagues in Congress will realize the importance of this program to all Americans and re-authorize the LWCF during the next budgeting process in December.”

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