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Colorado senators promise to protect funding for LWCF, public lands from Trump budget cutting

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March 21, 2019, 12:14 pm

A proposed budget floated recently by the Trump administration that drastically slashes funding for various public lands programs — including the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund — is being widely panned by Colorado lawmakers, including both its Republican and Democratic U.S. senators.

Sen. Michael Bennet.
Sen. Michael Bennet

A version of the following article on the LWCF, produced by RealVail.com, first appeared in the Vail Daily:

Gardner, Bennet promise to fight Trump plans to gut LWCF

Colorado’s U.S. senators Tuesday told the Vail Daily they will both fight hard for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund despite Trump administration plans to gut the program that’s pumped more than $268 million into the state for parks, ball fields, trails and open space.

“Congress finally secures LWCF for future generations, and the administration turns around and tries to cut its funding. This is exactly why Coloradans are so frustrated with Washington,” Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said via a spokeswoman.

Bennet was referring to the signing last week of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act (formerly the Natural Resources Management Act) by President Donald Trump – the day after the White House released a proposed 2020 budget with deep cuts to the LWCF and other public lands programs.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the crown jewel of our conservation programs and I have long supported fully funding LWCF that comes at no cost to the taxpayers,” Republican Sen. Cory Gardner said via a spokesman.

Established by Congress in 1965, the LWCF uses offshore drilling lease fees to develop parks, wildlife refuges and recreational facilities on federal, state and local lands. It also funds additions and upgrades to national parks, forests and other public lands, including projects in Eagle County. Trump’s budget would reportedly slash LWCF funding by 95 percent.

“I always fight for Colorado priorities in the budget and will continue to do so,” Gardner added. “Congress ultimately controls the power of the purse and I remain committed to putting Colorado interests first.”

Gardner’s office points to major Colorado priorities he successfully included in the most recent appropriations bill, including $435 million for the LWCF and $500 million for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provide federal payments to local governments to offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries.

Bennet has introduced legislation to fully fund the LWCF, and Gardner has consistently vowed to continue fighting for full funding of the program.

State groups dependent on the funding would love to see an end to the annual budget battle for the program, which is now permanently reauthorized and collecting money from drilling operations.

“I struggle with that; I struggle with the whole [funding] concept, not just LWCF but the Forest Service and BLM budgets as a whole,” said Scott Jones, chairman of Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s State Recreational Trails Committee. “When Land and Water Conservation Fund money went away, the non-motorized side of the state trails program almost disappeared. It would have been less than a million bucks a year, and that was going to be a big problem.”

Congress allowed the LWCF to lapse in September of last year after it was only reauthorized for three years in 2015.

Jones, who also represents several motorized recreational user groups, says one of his biggest frustrations is having the funds to work on trail projects but not enough federal staff to approve and facilitate construction.

“Our trails program, the motorized end of it, puts about $6 million a year on the ground for all kinds of projects — bridges, trail crews, you name it, we do it,” said Jones, who’s also president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association and vice president of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition.

“One of the biggest barriers we run into is we have the money, we have the trained people oftentimes housed in the Forest Service or BLM and we can’t get clarification on can we do this, can we not do this because there’s nobody there,” Jones said, referring to a lack of federal staffing or firefighting obligations.

“Last couple of years it’s been, ‘You know, John, the forester is fighting a fire for seven months out of the year,’” Jones said. “We need money to put people at desks.”

For hikers and backpackers, LWCF funding is key.

The ongoing construction of the Continental Divide Trail depends on LWCF money, particularly in areas where there’s no nearby federally owned public land. In those cases, proponents of the trail use LWCF funds to acquire private land for the trail.

In a press release, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition blasted the president’s “drastic cuts to LWCF,” which they argued “undermined White House claims of support for the program.” Teresa Martinez, executive director of the Golden-based CDTC, celebrated the renewal of the program but said it’s time to “get back to work to fight to ensure strong funding for LWCF.”

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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