U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet were part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday who introduced a bill to fully fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
That fund, which was brought back from the dead last month after Congress allowed it to lapse last year, is designed to raise money to acquire public lands and aid outdoor recreation projects.
Since its inception in 1964, virtually every area of the nation has seen benefits from it, including Mesa County and Colorado’s Western Slope.
“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,” said Gardner, a Republican.
“Consistent full funding will ensure LWCF reaches its potential to protect and promote access to America’s parks, rivers, forests and public lands,” added Bennet, a Democrat. “That includes the hundreds of projects in Colorado that span every county and benefit our statewide economy.”
The bill calls for permanently funding the program to the $900 million level that was originally planned when the law was enacted more than 50 years ago. Congress, however, has rarely funded it to that level.
In fact, that’s happened only twice, meaning that about $22 billion over that time has gone to other purposes, according to the LWCF Coalition.
This bill corrects that.
“Every dollar diverted from LWCF leaves local communities with fewer resources to make investments that boost tourism and create jobs,” said coalition spokesman Tom Cors. “After the historic vote (in March) to permanently authorize LWCF, it’s time to keep the promise made to the American people more than 50 years ago, that government revenues from offshore drilling are used to preserve and protect our greatest outdoor places.”
The bill’s introduction immediately drew praise from numerous conservation and outdoor groups, but some said the senators need to work on funding the program in next year’s budget, too.
Even though President Donald Trump signed the bill last month to reauthorize the program, he did not include any funding for it in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
“The recent government shutdown reminded us of the numerous negative consequences that happen when our parks run out of money,” said Jen Clanahan, who has the title of head mom for the group. “We need Senator Gardner to act within his party to ensure our parks receive the funding they are owed.”