This summer, New Mexicans and Westerners were delighted to see the surprising bipartisan support in Washington for full funding for the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as well as major funding to address the maintenance backlog for public lands.
The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) came together to make good on both of these promises under the leadership of Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small – all New Mexico Democrats.
The measure also drew strong support from conservative Western leaders such as Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Steve Daines of Montana and Martha McSally of Arizona as well as from the Trump administration.
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation and its members, who have been advocating for these common-sense conservation investments for decades, were delighted to see the legislation pass and be signed into law by President Trump. This was a great deal for sportsmen and a great deal for New Mexicans.
But in a recent reversal from the legislation’s original intent, the administration is now using the GAOA as a way to give political favors to conservative lawmakers in the West.
Last week, Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt issued a secretarial order that neutered this transformational legislation, catering instead to political wishes of anti-public land extremists such as U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop of Utah, Paul Gosar of Arizona and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
Bernhardt’s secretarial order grants states veto power over the use of LWCF funds for land-acquisition projects that are not politically favorable to Republican-controlled states and local governments, despite those projects being beneficial to the conservation of wildlife and opening up access to the public. The order also redirects control of LWCF funds from Congress and gives those powers to the office of the president – a classic Trump bait-and-switch.
To add insult to injury, the LWCF project list released two weeks ago, several days after the Congressionally-mandated deadline, includes no DOI-managed LWCF projects for New Mexico. This is clearly political retribution against our state’s elected leaders, who in recent weeks rightfully have criticized the Trump administration for being one of the most anti-environmental administrations of our time.
That’s right – the lands, waters, wildlife and people of New Mexico get zero dollars for DOI-managed LWCF projects despite our state’s entire congressional delegation leading on the legislation that fully funded this program. We can no longer afford an administration and DOI leaders that govern our public lands, climate and natural resources by vengeance, political favoritism and corruption.
The bright spot is that Congress can largely ignore this order, and the incoming DOI secretary, presumably from New Mexico, can immediately reverse it. Regardless, it’s clear this administration and DOI leadership were never invested in conservation or the GAOA; they only saw it as a political tool to prop up vulnerable election-year politicians and are quickly reverting to their anti public-land, anti-environment stance of old. This is evident in the administration’s 11th-hour decisions to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling, weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules on U.S. Forest Service Lands, and finalize management plans that favor the oil and gas industry in treasured places such as the Chaco Canyon region.
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation and its members look forward to working with a new administration, new state and federal leaders, and a new DOI secretary that will make equitable, science-based decisions about the management of our state’s beautiful public lands and natural resources. Sportsmen will continue to fight to make sure we get our fair share.
Jesse Deubel is a native New Mexican and avid bowhunter.