A bipartisan delegation of senators and representatives, including Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, called for the permanent reauthorization and mandatory funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund on Thursday on the Capitol lawn.
Gardner opened a news conference after Jay Leutze, vice president of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, introduced him as a leader of the effort, noting Gardner’s ability to secure the Capitol lawn as the location of the conference.
The LWCF expired at the end of September.
“Our effort today is simply this: We’re trying to make a lame duck a little less lame and make sure we get some productivity on LWCF – moving it forward,” Gardner said. “If you look at the great bipartisan support that we have for LWCF – House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Republicans and Democrats coming together to permanently reauthorize, fully fund … the most important program, in my mind, the crown jewel of our conservation efforts.”
Gardner said he was honored to be part of a bipartisan reauthorization effort. The LWCF is a dedicated congressional fund created in 1964 that provides grants to protect and develop national, state and local parks; areas around rivers and lakes; national forests and national wildlife refuges.
The program funds the purchase of land for conservation and recreational purposes and grants matching funds to states for planning, developing and acquiring land and water areas. According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department website, the LWCF has granted nearly $61 million to local government and state park outdoor recreational projects in Colorado.
Members of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, including leaders of IMBA Chapter Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts and high school students from the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, visited Washington to meet with representatives, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, to lobby for permanent reauthorization and mandatory, full funding for the fund.
IMBA Executive Director David Wiens said the group attended Thursday’s news conference between meetings and after hearing about it Wednesday.
“LWCF doesn’t seem to be controversial in Colorado,” Wiens said. “In listening to this press conference, … (many people are) saying, ‘This is a no-brainer. It’s popular on both sides of the aisle. This thing should’ve been done awhile ago. It doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime.’”
Wiens said the group is also talking to congressional representatives and staff about the House bill, Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, which reduces or simplifies government agency regulations for outdoor recreation access. Wiens said if everyone on the outdoor recreation side, including hikers, mountain bikers, ranchers and more, came together, then legislation protecting public lands would pass.
“We all love our public lands, and this fund is so important to that. I think that coming together is very important,” Wiens said. “It’s starting to happen in places like the Four Corners, like the Hermosa Creek group that formed.”
Gardner ended his statement by referring to the famous poem “America the Beautiful,” which he said was inspired by writer Katharine Lee Bates’ hike up Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs. Gardner said that Congress needs to reauthorize the fund to continue to protect public lands like those “purple mountain majesties.”
“We’re proud of our national forests, we’re proud of our national parks, we’re proud of our national monuments, we’re proud of our public lands,” Gardner said. “We’re proud of the opportunity this Congress has to prove to the American people that we will stand up and fight for LWCF.”
Emily Martin is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.