Congress should permanently reauthorize Land and Water Conservation Fund

Canada geese land on the Model Boat Pond at Tingley Beach in 2016. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

As elected officials representing communities across New Mexico, our jobs are to do what is in the best interest of the people living and working where we live and work. One common thread across the communities we serve is that each one has benefitted greatly from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Without Congressional action, LWCF is set to expire at the end of September.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established by Congress in 1964 for specific purposes that are even more relevant today: to provide states, counties and municipalities funding for local open space and recreation projects; to acquire and protect federal lands; and to preserve the cultural and historical sites that make our country great.

Whether it’s better access to our national parks, forests, monuments or refuges, or improvements to local parks, LWCF has funded over 1,200 projects across the state, to the tune of $312 million.

None of these funds come from taxpayer dollars – LWCF is completely funded by royalties paid by oil and gas companies that drill offshore. Chances are, when you hike, hunt, walk your dog, or take your kids to the playground, your experience has been improved thanks to the LWCF.

To sustain the best parts of New Mexico for future generations, we should all view ourselves as caretakers of our beautiful outdoors. There are times when we have to take action, as caretakers, to ensure that we continue to have and use our parks and public lands for the betterment of our communities, for our health, and to honor the role the outdoors has played in our New Mexico heritage.

Now is one of those times to take action, time for Congress to pass legislation to reauthorize the LWCF before it expires at the end of September, less than 100 days away.

The impact of LWCF across the state, and across the country, is far reaching. From Tingley Beach in Albuquerque, to the Organ Mountains that rampart Mesilla, to the Rio Chama Watershed in Rio Arriba County, LWCF touches every person who calls New Mexico home. It has been one of the most successful, bipartisan, multi-agency initiatives of the last 50 years.

New Mexico’s outdoor recreation economy is booming, with 65 percent of New Mexico residents regularly participating in some outdoor recreation activity. That translates to $9.9 billion in consumer spending supporting 99,000 jobs in our state. Right now, there is momentum to open a New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation, our national monuments and parks are hitting record visitation numbers, and our pristine outdoor and wilderness areas are boosting tourism like never before. Places protected and enhanced by LWCF contribute to all of this. We simply cannot afford to let LWCF expire.

Our representatives in Congress, most notably U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., have long been champions of LWCF, and we are grateful. We need them to work harder than ever before, in a difficult environment in D.C., to get the LWCF reauthorized. Our U.S. Representatives on the House side, Democrats Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce, must work with their colleagues, too.

Kudos to the League of United Latin American Citizens, and to the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, Bernalillo County (Resolution 2015-56), and scores of business owners who have issued public statements in support of LWCF reauthorization. We, too, have joined with 40 of our colleagues from around the state on a letter to our Congressional Delegation in support of LWCF.

Without reauthorization from Congress, we stand to lose the best instrument we have to protect our parks, water and wildlife habitats, conserve working farms and ranches, grow high-paying jobs and support local economies, and safeguard outdoor experiences for future generations. It time for us, and Congress, to do everything we can to reauthorize and fully fund LWCF.