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Senate approves bill that restores Land and Water Conservation Fund

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February 12, 2019, 10:03 pm
gunnison gorge
The Gunnison Gorge National Consersvation Area was preserved with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (Photo courtesy of visitmontrose.com).

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved the Natural Resources Management Act that includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund that Congress allowed to expire last fall. The “lands package” still has to be approved by the House and signed by President Donald Trump.

The LWCF, which dedicates a certain percentage of offshore oil and gas drilling fees to land, water, open space and outdoor recreation projects around the nation, has pumped more than $268 million into Colorado projects. The LWCF still is not fully funded under the Senate bill.

Colorado conservation groups, politicians and stakeholders have been pushing hard for renewal of the LWCF since it expired Oct. 1, including at an event in Avon last fall.  

“Thank you to every Coloradan who has spoken up in support of LWCF, met with me across the state at an LWCF-funded project, and traveled to Washington to advocate for this critical program. It’s your persistence that has led to this historic vote in the Senate to permanently save the conservation fund,” Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said in a release. “After a decade of leading the charge for permanent reauthorization, today is a victory for Colorado and a commitment to future generations.”

Here’s a press release from Colorado Trout Unlimited:

Colorado Trout Unlimited Applauds Progress to Save LWCF

(Feb. 12, 2019) Denver, Colo. – The United States Senate has voted to advance S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act. Importantly, the bipartisan legislation permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has been expired since September 30. The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives where supporters are urging quick passage.

“Even when this hugely successful program was falling victim to Washington’s partisan dysfunction, Senators Bennet and Gardner never stopped working to secure its passage. We deeply appreciate their unflagging commitment to investing in Colorado’s public lands and outdoor recreation,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.  

For more than half a century, LWCF has used a portion of federal offshore energy revenues — at no cost to taxpayers — to conserve our lands, water, and open spaces and protect the outdoor recreation opportunities they offer. LWCF has invested over $268 million in Colorado, helping to secure access and conserve special places across the state, including the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and boat launches on the Colorado River.

“We still need to fully fund LWCF and we will continue working toward that end. But permanent authorization is an enormous accomplishment for all who have worked tirelessly on this issue,” said Scott Willoughby, Colorado Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “In addition to LWCF, this legislation includes dozens of bipartisan provisions across the country that will help sustain our public land heritage. This is one of the most important pieces of public lands legislation in recent memory and we urge the House to quickly pass this bill.”

And a release from Sen. Bennet’s office:

Bennet Applauds Senate Passage of Natural Resources Management Act and Permanent Reauthorization of LWCF

Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today applauded Senate passage of the Natural Resources Management Act, commonly referred to as the “lands package.” Bennet secured 10 provisions in the package that will improve land management and expand access to public lands in Colorado. Additionally, after a decade of fighting to save the program, Bennet helped secure permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

“Thank you to every Coloradan who has spoken up in support of LWCF, met with me across the state at an LWCF-funded project, and traveled to Washington to advocate for this critical program. It’s your persistence that has led to this historic vote in the Senate to permanently save the conservation fund,” Bennet said. “After a decade of leading the charge for permanent reauthorization, today is a victory for Colorado and a commitment to future generations.”  

 “It’s rare that a bipartisan lands package moves in Congress, so this bill is a significant accomplishment for communities across Colorado,”Bennet continued. “I am particularly pleased to know my bill with the late Senator John McCain of Arizona, who valued service to this country above all else, is one step closer to becoming law. Our bill takes the best of America—our youth, veterans, and great outdoors—and expands the pathway for one to help the other.”

 Land and Water Conservation Fund

 Since joining the Senate in 2009, Bennet has advocated for LWCF reauthorization. He has led the effort in Congress with Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) to permanently reauthorize the program, introducing bipartisan legislation in 2015, and in every Congress since. When LWCF expired in September 2015, Bennet spoke on the Senate floor and wrote letters to leadership to help secure a three-year authorization in the end-of-year spending bill. When the program was set to expire again in September 2018, Bennet worked with Burr to file an amendment to the Farm Bill and other bills moving on the Senate floor and introduced a separate bill with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF. Today’s lands package includes permanent reauthorization for LWCF.

 Over the years, Bennet has visited several LWCF-funded projects in Colorado, including the Animas River Trail in 2016 and the Yampa River Project in 2018, to advocate for the program. LWCF has invested more than $268 million in Colorado projects since its inception.

 Bennet-Led Provisions in Lands Package

 In addition to LWCF, Bennet helped secure 10 provisions in the lands package that improve land management and expand access to public land in Colorado. This includes the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act, which Bennet led with late-Senator John McCain (R-AZ) beginning in 2015, to place youth and returning veterans in national service roles to enhance America’s public lands and waters.

 It also includes bills to designate Colorado peaks in honor of distinguished mountaineers; begin the process of establishing the Pike National Historic Trail; protect an important view shed near Rocky Mountain National Park; and expands sportsmen access, among others.

 Resources

 A summary of the Bennet-led provisions included in the lands package is available HERE.

The text of the Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47) is available HERE

Support for the Lands Package

 “For more than 50 years, LWCF has been a crucial tool in protecting our public lands and waters,” said Teresa Martinez, Executive Director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. “Since LWCF was allowed to expire in September of last year, Americans have lost out on more than $300 million in funding for our public lands. We are excited that the Senate has taken this important step, and we hope to see this public lands package passed by the House and signed into law without further delay. The CDT is a world-class resource that draws thousands of people to Colorado each year. Yet despite four decades of progress, this national treasure is still incomplete. For example, at Muddy Pass, just outside of Steamboat Springs, the CDT is forced to follow the side of a dangerous highway for almost 15 miles due to a gap in public lands. LWCF is the only tool we have to move the trail onto a safer, more scenic route. It’s absolutely critical to completing the CDT and fulfilling the promise of an uninterrupted route from Mexico to Canada. We thank Senator Bennet for continuing to prioritize our public lands and for his vote, and look forward to working with the Senator to pass guaranteed full funding for LWCF.”

 “The Senate’s vote for this comprehensive package of resource bills came to pass for many reasons: the sportsmen and women who raised our voices together in support of our public lands and waters; the citizens who united to ensure that the economic health of our communities and the places we go with our families are conserved; our leaders in the upper chamber whose dogged grit to advance this legislation never faltered,” said Land Tawney, President and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Backcountry Hunters & Anglers offers our thanks to Sen. Bennet and his colleagues, who did yeoman’s work in ensuring that this critical package of bills – including language that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund – is one step closer to becoming law.”

 “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is important to combat veterans, like myself, because it protects American history through the preservation of military battlefields like Gettysburg where future generations can learn the sacrifice of the men and women in uniform,” said Garrett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain Director of Vet Voice Foundation and U.S. LWCF also improves our quality of life through urban greening projects like the Cottonwood Creek Trail in Colorado Springs, where I first taught my son how to ride a bike. Or, by purchasing easements to hunting areas and building state wildlife lands like Sarvis Creek where my son caught his first fish. The program has been used in almost every county in the United States without costing taxpayers a dime. Programs that continue to protect the lands of the free should be permanently reauthorized with secure and full funding.”  

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