The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is poised to receive permanent funding after the U.S. Senate passed legislation Wednesday. The fund, created by Congress in 1965 to support public land management using offshore oil and gas royalties, will receive $900 million annually under the bill, marking just the second time since its creation that the program will be fully funded.
The Great American Outdoors Act, which environmental groups are calling “a historic public lands conservation package,” passed the Senate Wednesday with what some have dubbed “rare” bipartisan support on a 73-25 vote. The bill was introduced earlier this year by Republican Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana. New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich both supported the bill and pushed initiatives to fully support the LWCF, which will pour millions into public lands across the state.
“My father, Stewart Udall, helped enact this wildly successful program as Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and I’m glad the full promise of LWCF is finally being realized,” Udall said in a statement. He called the fund “one of the most successful conservation tools we have to protect and expand our public lands” and said it is “a historic game-changer for New Mexico and the nation.”
The fund “has helped preserve many treasured places in New Mexico — including the Valles Caldera, Ute Mountain, and Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge,” Heinrich said in a separate statement.
Given the fire hose of news from Washington, D.C. every day, New Mexicans can be forgiven if they miss stories about environmental overhauls from the White House and funding mishaps in Congress. But ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to climate-changing methane emissions, less money for public lands and parks or the intergenerational impacts of mercury exposure. At NM Political Report, we’re continuing to track the federal changes that affect New Mexicans. Here are a few of the most important issues that popped up recently. Udall: Climate change ‘moral test of our age’
At the end of last month, Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund lapse.
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.
Since his confirmation in March 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s push to trim the department he oversees while opening more public lands to energy development has been lauded by Republicans and denounced by Democrats. When it came to the budget, however, both sides agreed on one thing: No big cuts. In the omnibus federal budget, which recently passed with solid bipartisan support, Congress decided the Department of Interior was worth nearly $2.5 billion more than the administration had proposed. The Trump administration had proposed substantial budget cuts at a time of record visitations to public lands, billions of dollars of maintenance backlogs and some of the lowest staffing levels in decades at agencies like the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. But in the appropriations bill signed March 23, the Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM each received more than a quarter billion dollars more than requested, and the National Park Service got almost $650 million more than the secretary asked for.
Martin Heinrich is a U.S. Senator representing New Mexico and a former congressman representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. Recently, the final piece of the Miranda Canyon property was set aside for protection as part of the Carson National Forest. This addition of historic and scenic land will bring new economic activity and recreation opportunities to the Taos area. It will also conserve a vital local water supply. The Land and Water Conservation Fund helped pay for this newly protected outdoor space for us all to enjoy.