From The Durango Herald (Edward Graham):
Newly proposed legislation to reform the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress allowed to expire at the end of September, is being met by criticism that it will radically alter the popular program.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who previously promised to put forward legislation that would change the LWCF’s funding after the program expired, announced the proposed legislation during a conference call earlier this week.
“More than 50 years ago, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was created to develop outdoor recreation facilities throughout the nation,” Bishop said during the call. “And while broadly supported and in many ways a policy success, the LWCF has strayed quite a bit beyond its law and original intent.”
The LWCF, which was first established in 1964, is the country’s most successful land conservation program. Over its history, the program has provided close to $17 billion in funding for the expansion of state and federal parks and national forests across the country.
Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, have both expressed support for the fund’s permanent reauthorization.
In January, Bennet introduced legislation along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., to permanently reauthorize the fund. That legislation garnered 59 votes, one short of the 60 needed to pass the Senate.
Bennet said that the current reforms proposed by Bishop are unnecessary.
“The LWCF is one of our country’s most successful conservation programs that has benefited urban and rural communities throughout Colorado,” Bennet said. “It does not need to be reformed, and it enjoys strong bipartisan support. We will continue to push for permanent reauthorization and will work to secure full funding for the program.”
Gardner, along with Bennet and 52 other senators, previously signed on to a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling for the LWCF’s permanent reauthorization. Gardner also repeated his support for the program in response to Bishop’s legislation.
“For over 50 years, the LWCF has preserved iconic landscapes in Colorado and throughout the country,” he said. “I remain a strong proponent of permanently reauthorizing the LWCF, and that is why I will continue to work toward a solution that paves the way for the commonsense, permanent reauthorization of a program that has been a great friend to Colorado and is supported by sportsmen, hunters, recreationists and Americans around the country.”
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who previously said that the fund was in need of reform “to ensure it is still achieving its original mission,” has not yet publicly come out in favor of the proposed legislation.
“Congressman Tipton looks forward to carefully reviewing Chairman Bishop’s proposal,” said Tipton spokesman Josh Green.