Opinion | Eric Mamula: Public lands are the foundation of the outdoor recreation industry

Eric Mamula
Breckenridge mayor
Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula

Early this spring, the Trump administration released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2020. Trump’s budget slashes America’s best conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and guts environmental and wildlife protections. The budget would reduce funding for the Department of Interior by 14%, the Environmental Protection Agency by 31% and the Department of Agriculture by 15%. Cuts of this nature would be detrimental to mountain communities such as Breckenridge, the public lands surrounding our community and Colorado’s $28 billion outdoor recreation economy.

Although many of these budget requests are unlikely to become reality, the proposal makes it clear that the Trump administration continues to prioritize corporate interest and energy dominance at the expense of all other uses of public lands. For example, the administration has proposed a $60 million increase in fossil fuel development and research while deeply cutting renewable energy research and development by 70%. With many Colorado communities, including Breckenridge, committing to 100% renewable electricity, this is a scary proposition. 

Our community is inextricably linked to the public lands that surround us such as the Breckenridge Ski Resort operating in the White River National Forest, and the open space and trails systems we have worked hard to provide and maintain for our residents and visitors. There is blatant disregard for the cultural and economic impacts on our community should we see these drastic cuts to conservation programs as proposed.

We are hopeful, however, as Congress is working to produce a budget that more adequately funds environmental and conservation programs. On May 14, 2019, the House Appropriations Committee released the Interior-Environment Funding Bill that: “increases discretionary funding by $1.73 billion from the 2019 level, protecting and preserving public lands, building resilience to climate change, strengthening environmental workforce, and ensuring access to safe drinking water.”

The House proposal to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $523.9 million is a great step in the right direction but falls short of the $900 million funding level set by Congress in 1964.

In fact, since the original passage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, more than $22 billion has been diverted from the fund account to other unknown, nonconservation related purposes. Our community has seen the impacts of the Land and Water Conservation Fund over three decades with project funding dating back to 1975. This includes completion of projects such as 1978 Town Park improvements, the 1985 Blue River reclamation project, 2005 Cucumber Gulch project and the 2010 Swan Mountain recpath. We encourage Congress to pass full, dedicated funding for the program as proposed in the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act. Just recently, the House Natural Resources Committee advanced that legislation, and the House and Senate should pass it immediately.

We thank our District 2 Rep. Joe Neguse for cosponsoring the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (H.R. 3195) as well as Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet for being early advocates and original cosponsors of the Senate version of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (S. 1081). Our delegation has shown true leadership in support of Colorado’s public lands and outdoor recreation economy, which in turn supports our community, residents and visitors who cherish our public lands.

Public lands are the foundation of the outdoor recreation industry and the culture of our mountain community. The federal government must recognize this and include funding for essential agencies and programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that our community and others like it can continue to thrive.

Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula has been involved in local politics since 1994, when he first served on the Breckenridge Sanitation Board. Since then, he has served on the Red, White & Blue Fire Board, the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Committee, Breckenridge Board of Adjustments, Breckenridge Planning Commission and Breckenridge Town Council.

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