SANTA FE, N.M. — The Valles Caldera is arguably one of the West’s most iconic public lands resources. Aptly nicknamed the “Yellowstone of New Mexico,” this unique, permanently protected 89,000-acre wild wonderland is one of the most magnificent sub-alpine fish, wildlife, geological and culturally rich landscapes in the nation.
The Valles Caldera, the newly created Valle del Oro Refuge near Albuquerque and many other of our magnificent public lands resources throughout the west would simply not be in the public trust without the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Valles Caldera for example, was purchased with $101 million in LWCF funds in 2000.
Nearly 50 years ago, a far-sighted, bipartisan group in Congress established the LWCF, tapping a fraction of the royalties from offshore oil and gas production to give all Americans a lifetime of outdoor recreational opportunity. Congress intended the fund to be used for “preserving, developing, and assuring accessibility to … outdoor recreation resources … and to strengthen the health and vitality of the citizens of the United States … .”
Despite the fact that Congress has not funded LWCF at the authorized $900 million level for many years, every state has benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It has built swimming pools and softball fields, improved hiking trails and campgrounds, and provided access to public land of incomparable beauty for the enjoyment of Americans of every age, background and place of residence.
Sportsmen like us have benefited as much as any through the wise use of LWCF grants to protect areas with remarkable fish and wildlife resources, such as the Valles Caldera. These grants have helped make our hunting and fishing opportunity in America the envy of the world. Through Sen. Martin Heinrich’s proposed HUNT Act, a small portion of LWCF funds could also be used to purchase easements from willing landowners across private lands to access approximately 4 million acres of landlocked national public lands.
Our fish and wildlife resources – elk, deer, game birds and antelope, trout, bass and panfish – are threatened by pressures large and small, from new development on remote mountain streams to dramatic changes in our Southwestern climate. It is imperative that we protect the habitat these species rely on, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of our most valuable tools in that effort. The steady and ongoing investment in protecting public lands is simply good, conservative management of some of our most valued natural resources.
Continued investment in public lands makes good economic sense. Every year, Americans spend some $650 billion on outdoor recreation – on gear, vehicles, travel-related expenses and more – in large part to enjoy public lands. This spending is a crucial part of the U.S. economy, supporting more than 6 million jobs, providing much-needed economic development in rural communities, and generating billions of dollars in local, state and federal tax revenue.
LWCF is more than an economic driver, however. Investing in watershed protection keeps our cities’ drinking water clean, prevents disastrous flooding and provides the agriculture industry with a reliable, sustainable source of water to put food on our tables.
For hunters and anglers, the fund has been a valued partner in protecting core cultural traditions that in New Mexico go back thousands of years. Traditional lifestyles help make up the unique character of our state and nation, and protected public lands are where the vast majority of hunters and anglers go to pass on these traditions to our kids and grandkids.
On March 27, Sen. Heinrich joined Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to introduce legislation (S. 890) to permanently authorize and fully fund the LWCF. Sen. Tom Udall has since co-sponsored the legislation. The program is set to expire this September unless Congress acts.
The scope and scale of LWCF-funded projects that directly affects sportsmen, fish and game has been staggering. These projects also are among the many reasons we believe Congress should fully fund LWCF now and in the future as a crucial investment in our nation’s health and well-being.
But so much more needs to be done. In virtually every state, there are priority lists of projects that would protect critical wildlife habitat, restore watershed health and improve access to public lands where hunters and anglers can pass on outdoor traditions to the next generation.
We urge Congress to carefully consider the LWCF’s funding potential, and to champion full funding of this invaluable land and water management tool, not only today, but also far into the future.
John Crenshaw is the president of New Mexico Wildlife Federation.