Martinez: Losing conservation fund a blow to Colorado’s public lands (column)
Special to the Daily
Three years ago we launched the Continental Divide Trail Coalition because the organization before us had just dissolved and left the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) with out a national voice to advocate for its protection, provide for its volunteer stewardship, and ensure that the American (and international) public be able to experience first hand the landscapes of the Continental Divide. The Divide itself is a landscape feature worth reverence, but with a Congressionally Designated National Scenic Trail along its spine, it’s a critical connection to the past, present and future of not only the American West, but the history that defines and exemplifies the spirit of our American life. When we launched the coalition, we did so because we knew we couldn’t let the CDT fall on our watch. We knew that a conservation legacy so rich was worth saving and fighting for; and ensuring that no one ever doubted it was in the public’s best interest to protect the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.
Today we are faced with a similar moment in time, but now it’s not just the CDT at risk. Instead, all of our nation’s public lands and those with the potential to become part of our public domain, are facing a future without the most successful tool used to protect and preserve them, along with our nation’s history of conservation legacy. What makes these special areas and lands at risk is Congress’ failure to act and allow the expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and its exclusion from the current version of the federal governments Continuing Resolution.
How can a program that doesn’t use any tax payer money, has broad bi-partisan support and has been responsible for our nation’s public lands legacy over the last 50 years be allowed to expire and not make it into the Continuing Resolution? How has a program that has been critical for securing access for hunting, fishing and camping, as well as providing pools, playgrounds and ball fields for our communities been and generally creates components of our quality of life, not been reauthorized? Over 42,000 parks, playgrounds, trails and other opportunities for all Americans to enjoy the outdoors have been funded by LWCF and 88% of Americans support LWCF!
In fact, LWCF investments have occurred in local communities across the U.S. in all 50 states and 98% of all U.S. counties. Studies have found that every dollar invested in land acquisition or improvement generates a $4 return for communities, and the broader outdoor recreation and conservation economy is responsible for more than $600 billion in consumer spending every year. In Colorado alone, with 65% of the state’s population participating in outdoor activities, this translates into $13. 2 billion in consumer spending, 125,000 direct jobs, $4.2 million in wages, and $994 million in state and local tax revenue. The LWCF program helps preserve access to outdoor recreation, which in turns protects the economy, the businesses, and the communities and people who depend on the ability to experience our rich public lands and spaces.
Most importantly to us at CDTC, LWCF provides the one and only critical tool we need in order to protect and preserve the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Because the CDT is not completed yet, LWCF is the primary funding source for acquisition of private lands from willing sellers that helps us complete protection of the CDT Corridor.
Since 2009, with the passage of the Public Lands Omnibus Bill, the CDT Community and its Federal Agency partners have moved completion of the CDT from 75% to 95% . What remains will require LWCF funds to complete. Private land owners who are willing to sell their lands to protect the CDT are now being asked to wait even longer to sell their lands, or, with even more uncertainty in funding availability may decide to sell their lands to other parties so their financial futures are not in limbo because LWCF has been allowed to expire.
We do wish to recognize champions in the fight including many of our senators and representatives from the states along the CDT, with specific mention and thanks to Senator Cory Gardner and Senator Michael Bennet for their leadership on the matter. But, we remain saddened and disappointed that congress has allowed LWCF to expire after 50 years of truly successful programs that have benefited us all. Congress has truly moved away from our strong legacy of public lands protection and the very symbol of democracy in America, where all of us have access to and are able to experience places like the CDT, places of national natural, cultural, historical, and even spiritual significance. CDTC believes it is in the public’s best interest to protect LWCF. We urge all Americans to raise your voices on behalf of LWCF and to not lose what President Eisenhower envisioned for LWCF 50 years ago — to preserve our natural places, and hold them in reverence for how the define the very fabric of what makes our country special. CDTC is asking you to not let us be the generation that let it fall on our watch. CDTC knows what it means to stand up and fight for the things you love. And so we urge you if you love our natural places, stand up and fight for LWCF and urge our congressional leadership to do the right thing and preserve the Land and Water Conservation Fund, for us, for our children and for future generations yet to come.
Teresa Ana Martinez is the director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. She is also a board member for the National Trails System.
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