WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado urged Congress to promptly reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund during a press conference Thursday in front of the U.S. Capitol building.
The fund directs federal revenue from offshore oil and gas leases to fund outdoor recreation and conservation projects. Since Congress authorized the Fund in 1965, it has provided Colorado with federal grants worth more than $61 million.
The federal funds helped to leverage about $147 million for local government and state park recreational investments, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.
However, the most recent congressional authorization for the grants expired Sept. 30.
"It was 1893 when Katharine Lee Bates climbed up Pikes Peak," said Gardner, R-Colorado. "Katharine Lee Bates climbed up Pikes Peak and looked around, and she wrote that famous line, 'purple mountain majesties.'
"It’s because of funds and programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund that we have been able to preserve those incredible purple mountain majesties, the peaks that we love, the forest lands that we publicly own together."
A 22-member delegation from the Colorado-based International Mountain Bicycling Association met Thursday with lawmakers from Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, California, North Carolina and Washington State.
They contended that the LWCF is the most successful conservation program in U.S. history,
“Now that Congress has reconvened after the midterms, permanently reauthorizing and fully funding LWCF must be a top priority,” David Wiens, IMBA's executive director, said in a statement.
“We are in Washington to let key members of Congress know how important LWCF has been to mountain bikers and our fellow outdoor recreationists, from the trails close to home to the iconic backcountry rides LWCF has helped create.”
Gardner is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The Senate committee, along with the House Natural Resources Committee, have approved bills to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Congressional leaders have not yet submitted a reauthorization bill to a final vote by Congress. The current session of Congress ends Jan. 3, which prompted Gardner to call the press conference Thursday.
He said a bipartisan effort in Congress should take "the opportunities to make sure that we get this program done before the end of the year. This is what we are going to do, we are going to make this happen."
Earlier this month, 204 wildlife and conservation organizations -- some from Colorado -- sent a letter to congressional leaders asking for fast action to reauthorize the fund. The organizations included the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
“From Sarvis Creek to the Blanca Wetlands, [the fund] has played an instrumental role in providing access to premier hunting and fishing opportunities throughout the state and across the country," Don Holmstrom, co-chair of the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said in a statement.