President Donald Trump Tuesday signed into law a public lands package that includes permanent reauthorization of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a move favored by both of Colorado's U.S. senators.
But his proposed 2020 budget would slash the program's money by about 95 percent.
According to a statement from western members of the U.S. House, the package signed by the president includes about 78 Republican and 47 Democrat bills addressing various land and natural resource management issues, including the LWCF.
Conservation groups are nonetheless cheering that at least the program, which has provided billions of dollars for recreation and other conservation issues, was renewed.
The LWCF gets its money from federal oil and gas lease revenues from offshore drilling. Its recommended funding is $900 million per year, although it rarely gets the full amount.
LWCF grants have gone to more than 1,000 outdoor and recreational projects in Colorado. And because those grants must be leveraged with other dollars, its impact goes way beyond the $61 million the Centennial State has been awarded over the years.
Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife estimates state projects have won $147 million from the fund, with another $120 million awarded for federal projects.
While Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner introduced a bill to permanently reauthorize the LWCF, the package signed into law Tuesday included a different version.
In a statement, Bennet said it's "rare that a set of public lands bills becomes law, so this is a significant accomplishment for communities across Colorado. Our work over the last 10 years to permanently reauthorize LWCF has paid off. This victory is a commitment to future generations of Coloradans that they will have access to the same iconic landscapes and outdoor opportunities we enjoy today.”
Gardner attended Tuesday's signing ceremony and said later that after "working on this issue for four years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has finally been permanently reauthorized. I have continued to champion this crown jewel of conservation programs throughout my time in the Senate because of how important it is to all Coloradans who love our great outdoors. The program directly impacts the public lands in Colorado and will be used to protect our state’s natural beauty for future generations. I’m thrilled this commonsense program is being permanently reauthorized and supported across the political spectrum.”
Both Gardner and Bennet had other legislation included in the public lands package.
Among Colorado provisions in the measure are language calling for a study of designating the site of the Amache World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans as a national historic park, another study of adding the route of explorer Zebulon Pike (for whom Pikes Peak is named) to the national scenic trails system, the addition of 280 acres to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Teller County, and the addition of land to Arapaho National Forest.
But the Trump administration, despite signing a bill that will preserve the LWCF for the foreseeable future, severely cut its funding in the 2020 budget submitted to Congress this week.
The Huffington Post reported Monday that acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who is from Colorado, told the North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference in Denver last week that funding the LWCF is an administration priority.
The president's budget slashed the funding for the LWCF by about 95 percent, the HuffPost reported. The budget for LWCF would be around $7.6 million, instead of the $156 million that could be used from its existing funds.