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NM could lose land, water conservation funding

In just two days, New Mexicans may lose the most powerful tool the state has for preserving public lands and creating national parks and open spaces across the state, from the Petroglyph National Monument to local Little League fields.

Since its enactment 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act has preserved land throughout the state and enabled thousands of conservation projects.

New Mexico has received nearly $261 million in federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to plan, construct and enhance parks, playgrounds, trails, ball fields, pools and other recreation facilities in communities across the state.

To this day, the fund is the only federal program dedicated to the continued conservation of our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, playground and local parks.

But unless Congress moves to extend its mandate by Wednesday, the funds that enable the purchase and protections of New Mexico’s public places are in danger of expiring, leaving our favorite outdoor spaces vulnerable to being sold off, developed, encroached upon and possibly lost to the public forever.

This wouldn’t only be a major blow to New Mexico’s natural, historic and recreational outdoor areas, but it would also adversely impact the local economy.

New Mexico’s outdoor recreation economy alone supports 68,000 jobs, contributes $6.1 billion in consumer spending, generates $1.7 billion in wages and salaries and produces $458 million annually in state and local tax revenue.

Nationally, the president has proposed to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million for the fiscal year 2016. Out of these $900 million, approximately $14 million would go to fund projects in New Mexico. Moreover, because funding comes from federal revenues collected from offshore oil and gas leasing, the fund does not cost taxpayers a single dime.

Many New Mexican are keenly aware that difficult choices have to be made in this time of economic uncertainty and fiscal belt-tightening. But when we compare these choices based on their impact on New Mexico’s people, communities and economy, the need for sustained investment through the Land and Water Conservation Fund is clear.

A full, permanent and dedicated funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund would be a historic step forward to provide New Mexico and this country with the critical recreation infrastructure, jobs and preservation of invaluable public lands.