ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Without action from Congress in the next six weeks, a conservation program that has benefited all 33 of New Mexico’s counties will end.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was enacted by Congress in 1964 with a goal to “preserve, create and ensure access to outdoor recreation facilities so as to strengthen the health of Americans.” Todd Leahy, acting educational director with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said the program has allowed the state to preserve public lands as well as build swimming pools, ballfields and local parks.
“It touches so many people. We’re talking about parks for kids in addition to sportsmen’s access and that sort of stuff that we always talk about,” Leahy said. “And this is one of those things that should just be a no-brainer because everybody benefits.”
LWCF is not funded by taxpayers but rather from a small portion of federal offshore energy revenues. New Mexico has received more than $300 million from the program over the past five decades to protect places such as the Petroglyph, Gila, Santa Fe and Carson national forests, and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River.
Tracy Stone-Manning is vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. Her group is seeking permanent reauthorization of the LWCF program to ensure future generations will benefit from open and protected space.
“There are many different approaches afoot that get into how much of the funds would be going to the state programs, how much would be going to the forest legacy programs. The discussion in September will go into the mechanics of that,” Stone-Manning said. “But we want to make sure whatever the fix is that it’s permanent.”
At a meeting last week, the Bernalillo County Commission added its support to full funding and reauthorization before the September 30 deadline. Leahy said the program hasn’t been a partisan issue in the past and shouldn’t be now.
“And that’s why you’re going to see, coming out of New Mexico, city and county resolutions urging Congress to get this done,” he said.
Both of New Mexico’s U.S. senators joined a bipartisan group to support full funding for the program. In most years, Congress raids the fund to pay for other projects.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.