ALBUQUERQUE – Conservationists are alarmed that only three months remain before one of the nation’s most popular conservation programs could end because Congress has not acted.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has improved national and local parks in New Mexico for more than 50 years, but is set to expire at the end of September.
The program doesn’t rely on taxpayer dollars; rather, it is funded by federal oil royalties from offshore drilling in public waters.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N. M., is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers that sponsored a bill to reauthorize the fund. He noted it has benefited residents in all 50 states.
“It’s an immensely successful program, which has provided funds to nearly every county in New Mexico, and the United States, to conserve public open space,” Udall said.
Since 1965, New Mexico has received more than 1,000 state and local grants from the LWCF, totaling nearly $43 million.
Outdoor recreation contributes $9.9 billion to New Mexico’s economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs in the state.
Carrie Hamblen, Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, says funding from the program has helped make public land more accessible, allowed the state to maintain outdoor recreation areas, and helped many of the state’s cities and towns.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped create spaces in their communities that add to the quality of life, help local businesses and also, in some cases, helped drive tourism,” Hamblen said.
These funds also have helped correct the widespread issue of “checkerboarded” land. For example, in 2005, LWCF funding helped purchase the last 13 acres needed to complete the first phase of development at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park.
Mesilla Mayor Nora Barraz says other recreational facilities in southern New Mexico would not exist without funding from the program.
“In New Mexico, we rely heavily on outdoor recreation as an economic boost for our community,” said Barraz, “and on top of that, it also helps provide funding for our state and local parks like – for swimming pools, playgrounds.”
Conservationists also want Congress to fully fund LWCF, at $900 million. That has only happened twice in the fund’s history, with funding fluctuating year to year because money is more often reallocated for other purposes.
Author – Roz Brown, Public News Service – NM