This week, two landmark promises to the American people will again come under a barrage of withering attacks in the U.S. House of Representatives.
We’re talking about the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Antiquities Act. These two historic pieces of legislation have made possible the protection of Carlsbad Caverns, Valles Caldera, El Morro and Chaco Canyon. Dozens of other sites that have been attracting tourists and their dollars to New Mexico for decades have also been protected.
The threat? Amendments tacked on to the Interior Department funding bill, that seek to gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund. They would also hobble attempts by current or future presidents to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act.
Our own Rep. Steve Pearce is leading the attack on both these measures. He supported similar amendments in February and is expected to lead the charge this week.
Why is it important to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to preserve the Antiquities Act?
First, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is not paid for by your tax dollars. It is funded by royalties generated by off-shore drilling activities. This money normally goes toward conservation efforts. It has paid for the development of 1,200 local parks and playgrounds in communities across our state but is often diverted to other purposes by Congress. This week, we will likely see an amendment to zero-out its funding altogether. Luckily, Sen. Jeff Bingaman has recently introduced a bill to mandate full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but that effort has only just begun.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a popular program that works at no cost to the American taxpayer. It has enriched the American experience by supporting national parks and wildlife refuges across America. And it includes a state component that pays for local parks and recreation projects. Since the fund’s inception 46 years ago, it has enjoyed wide bipartisan support through 10 administrations, Republican and Democrat. The fund has protected more than 7.6 million acres of land and paid for more than 40,000 local parks, pools, ball fields and other recreation projects nationwide.
The fund has also supported conservation at many of New Mexico’s marquee attractions: El Malpais National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, the Organ Mountains and the Gila National Forest, to name a few. New Mexico has received $41 million for open space and recreation projects in all 33 counties.
Second, with regard to the Antiquities Act, 10 presidents – six Republicans and four Democrats – have used the act to protect land in New Mexico. These places draw tourists from around the world, contributing greatly to New Mexico’s second-largest private industry – tourism.
Detractors claim that they need to curb this president’s power to designate monuments. But that thinking is historically short-sighted and cuts both ways, since it will also apply to future presidents. In a move to prevent government overreach, the Department of the Interior is now soliciting more community input into monument designation than ever.
This week is critical for the concept of conservation as a core value and an economic opportunity.
As Congress debates the Interior Appropriations bill, we implore New Mexicans who have enjoyed our wild places, who have used community parks and pools, or who make their living in the outdoor or tourism industries to stand up and be heard. Conservation is a good bet for New Mexico’s economy. Efforts to cut the Land and Water Conservation Fund or weaken the Antiquities Act will not only cause great harm to our state’s bottom line, they will also break a promise to future generations. That promise? That our kids and grandkids will have a wealth of cultural heritage and wild places to enjoy and pass on to future generations.
Young, Whiton and Simpson are members of Republicans for Environmental Protection; Smith and Young are National Park Service retirees; and Simpson is a member of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.