Like so many American children, I looked forward to Christmas all year. I loved hearing my mother’s beautiful voice singing “O Holy Night” during Christmas Eve service. I treasured the bustle of warmth and love that filled our home as friends and family gathered to celebrate together. I adored the holiday season, my anticipation growing with each December day passing. That countdown to Christmas morning serving as both the longest and most exciting of the year, and the countdown started with finding the perfect Christmas tree.
Decades later, I still understand the hunt for just the right tree, which is why I was delighted to hear that this year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree was coming from Carson National Forest right here in New Mexico. For the third time since the first tree was planted on the Capitol lawn in 1964, our state has been selected to provide the “People’s Tree.” Even more exciting, the tree was adorned with more than 10,000 ornaments handmade here in New Mexico, sending a bit of Southwestern holiday cheer to the nation’s capital.
While the tree reflects the diversity of our landscapes – proving there is more in New Mexico than sweeping deserts – these ornaments reflect the diversity of our communities and our holiday traditions, with so many of these traditions honoring the sacred relationship between our people and our land. From the traditional pueblo dances to the fall hunt, New Mexicans hold deep connections and solemn respect for our public lands. From the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe procession to the fragrant smell of piñon smoke burning in chimineas, to the soft glow of luminarias lighting the plaza, or a dinner of tamales and posole, New Mexico is the “Land of Enchantment,” and it is impossible to separate its people from the land itself.
These spaces, serving all the residents and visitors of New Mexico, have been long protected by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In fact, the very forest from which the People’s Tree was selected has benefitted from this national fund, one of $322.4 million worth of grants invested in New Mexico’s outdoors. Founded in 1964 – the same year as the very first Capitol Christmas tree – the LWCF is a bipartisan initiative designed to take royalties paid by gas and oil companies, and invest that money into public land and waterways. From Christmas trees to national parks, to local community centers, the range of ways that the LWCF positively impacts the lives of Americans is broader than any white pine my father could ever find.
Despite its impact, the future of the LWCF, and the projects it supports, is under attack. Earlier this year, Congress made the critical first step by permanently authorizing the fund, but failed to protect funding for the initiative – meaning the money intended for parks and playgrounds could be redirected to other government projects. In fact, President Trump’s recent budget proposed a 105% cut to LWCF funding – leaving less than nothing for our public lands.
My father served as a pastor when I was a child, so our Christmas traditions included visiting nursing homes and halfway houses, spending time with the folks in my community often overlooked or ignored. His holiday lessons taught me about giving back and serving those without a voice, which is why I’m proud to be a voice for public lands along with the LWCF.
The land in New Mexico is a gift, passed down from one generation to the next. From that land, we are able to give so much to our children and our communities, and even a Christmas tree to our nation – but this gift isn’t guaranteed. This holiday season, I urge Congress to honor that gift and protect it for the children of our great state and of our nation. Permanently fund the LWCF for this holiday season and all the ones to come.