The government shutdown that paralyzed Washington for five weeks wreaked havoc on our national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands. But beyond the well-documented problems of vandalism, clogged toilets and overflowing garbage cans, the shutdown also delayed consideration of a comprehensive public lands bill that has broad support in Congress.
The public lands legislation has many essential provisions to safeguard our precious public lands, including several that will help communities fight wildfires and regulate water issues in Colorado. But there is no more important provision for our state than the permanent reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is America’s best and oldest conservation fund. It uses revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling to pay for local parks, hiking and biking trails, boating access and numerous other outdoor recreation spaces. Over the years, Colorado has received more than $268 million from that fund to help maintain and protect places like the Mesa Verde National Park, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Cherry Creek Reservoir and Denver Urban Gardens. It provided the funding to add over 500,000 acres to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and used nearly $2 million to protect public access along the Yampa River, which is a major rafting and kayaking destination.
Since September, when the Land and Water Conservation Fund was allowed to lapse, communities, parks and public lands across the country have lost nearly $300 million. In Colorado, it has meant that projects at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and the Rio Grande National Forest were put on hold.
Not only does this jeopardize the health of the wildlife in these areas, it jeopardizes the health of our economy. Colorado’s booming $28 billion outdoor recreation industry supports more than 229,000 jobs and produces $2 billion annually in state and local revenue. Without the money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to maintain hiking and biking trails, expand hunting and fishing areas, protect historic sites and create new local parks, our recreation industry will suffer.
With so much partisan rancor in Washington, D.C. these days, we must speak out in support of a bipartisan fund that has been working to provide families, kayakers, anglers, back country skiers, climbers and backpackers with world-class recreation opportunities.
Both Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. Cory Gardner have been strong supporters of this program, but we need their continued leadership to get this important program permanently reauthorized. We must urge Congress to make passage of the critical public lands bill its first order of business. And that public lands bill must include permanent reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is so vital to the health of our public lands, our wildlife and our economy.
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