Colo. local officials urge reauthorization of land, water conservation fund

Visitors from Minnesota play a round of volleyball near Lake Dillon on July 24, 2018. (Hugh Carey/Summit Daily News via AP)

A federal program that has helped pay for parks and outdoor-recreation projects across Colorado would get an automatic $900 million a year under a measure introduced Tuesday and backed by both Colorado's senators.

The  Land and Water Conservation Fund, established in 1965, was intended to be funded through federal revenues from offshore oil and gas production. The fund expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to extend it.

Lawmakers restored the fund last month, but it was not permanently supplied with money.

Under the bipartisan bill introduced Tuesday, $900 million would be deposited into the fund each year from offshore energy revenues without the need to go through the federal appropriations process.

The bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, joined by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, D-Colorado, and 11 other senators from both parties.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the crown jewel of conservation programs and now that we have successfully permanently authorized the program, the next step is to make the funding of the program automatic,” Gardner said in a statement.

“Colorado projects rely on LWCF funding and fighting year after year about how much money to provide the program does not provide the long-term planning certainty our outdoor and conservation communities deserve," he said. "This is a commonsense, bipartisan program that comes at no cost to the taxpayer, and it is time Congress fully and permanently funds this critical conservation program so future generations of Coloradans will have access to our great outdoors.”

“After permanently reauthorizing LWCF earlier this year, we now must fulfill our promise to the next generation of Americans by fully funding the program,” Bennet said in his own statement. “Consistent full funding will ensure LWCF reaches its potential to protect and promote access to America's parks, rivers, forests, and public lands. That includes the hundreds of projects in Colorado that span every county and benefit our statewide economy.”

The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife estimates the LWCF has helped pay for $147 million in state projects and another $120 million for federal projects.

The federal part of the Colorado funding was only $61 million. However, the federal funds acted as seed money to help the state secure additional financing from other public and private sources.

Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government affairs for the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association, hailed the bill's introduction.

“Our nation’s $887 billion outdoor recreation economy depends on consistent funding for public lands and waters in order to provide access to the outdoors in every state and county in America,” she said. “We applaud the bipartisan leaders in Congress who succeeded in permanently authorizing LWCF earlier this year. The outdoor industry stands ready to work with Congress to ensure that this premier program also actually receives full funding by annually dedicating $900 million to LWCF.  We are pleased to see this new legislation and urge Congress to act quickly and decisively to pass full, dedicated funding for America’s outdoors.”

Environmental groups were also pleased.

“Today’s funding bill will ... [ensure] LWCF will always have the full and dedicated funding it needs to continue conserving our treasured natural landscapes," said Kameran Onley, director of U.S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy. "We urge lawmakers to work together in the same bipartisan spirit that made permanent reauthorization a reality and do the same for funding for LWCF.”

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