Guest opinion: Don’t let the sun set on our public lands
As hints of autumn begin to fill the high country in western Colorado, we take an extra minute to soak in the vibrant sunsets that highlight our vast and open horizons. But if Congress fails to act before Sept. 30, we’ll see a very different sunset, the sunset of our nation’s most successful conservation and outdoor recreation program.
In 1964, Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to invest in our public lands and provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. In its 50-year history, the LWCF has protected land in every state and helped support more than 41,000 state and local parks. In Colorado the LWCF has invested more than $230 million in public lands and outdoor recreation, conserving some of our most remarkable public lands, from the Great Sand Dunes to the Black Canyon, opening up additional access for hunting and fishing, and supporting local community trails and parks.
Many Coloradans may have never heard of the LWCF, but its results are unmistakable and are felt in every corner of the state. If you’ve ever hunted, fished, hiked or camped on our nation’s public lands, chances are you’ve benefited directly from investments made by the LWCF.
As Colorado’s own Sen. Cory Gardner has explained, “LWCF has conserved iconic landscapes in every state and is the nation’s most important conservation program” — yet the authorization for this successful program expires on Sept. 30 — and Congress has not yet acted to extend it.
As an outfitter, I get the chance to take clients from across the state and nation into western Colorado’s backcountry and showcase our amazing public lands. I know firsthand that LWCF’s investment in our public lands is not only good for our state’s environment, wildlife habitat and outdoor heritage but also supports our local economies and jobs. Outdoor recreation generates more than $30 billion every year statewide and is a significant part of western Colorado’s economic base. The majority of the state’s outdoor recreational opportunities generating these dollars are conducted on public lands.
Remarkably, LWCF has delivered these benefits to Colorado and nationwide without depending on taxpayer dollars. Instead, LWCF is funded by royalties paid on offshore oil and gas development. The revenue generated by extraction of one natural resource is used to support another — our public lands and outdoor recreation.
Extending such a successful and necessary program should be a no-brainer, and here in Colorado both of our U.S. senators have spoken in support of reauthorizing LWCF. Unfortunately, having a great program and bipartisan support isn’t a guarantee of success in Washington, D.C., and it’s all too easy for this great program to fall victim to congressional gridlock and the usual political games.
Coloradans can’t allow the LWCF program to fall victim to congressional incompetence. Outdoor recreation and public lands are the cornerstone of Colorado’s economy, culture and communities. It is even reflected in our official state brand and slogan: “It’s our nature.” Our state’s well-deserved reputation for great outdoor experiences is what allows rural local businesses like mine to exist and in turn support our local economies, create jobs and enhance rural communities. Colorado’s great outdoors is the state’s most essential asset both for our quality of life and for our local businesses.
The LWCF has been an incredible success investing in that asset, and we need to ensure that that wise investment continues.
Every member of Colorado’s congressional delegation should get behind LWCF reauthorization, and make sure that Washington’s inside-the-beltway politics don’t get in the way of continuing a program that does so much to benefit Colorado’s people and our state’s outdoor recreation industry.
Dan Schwartz and his wife, Kerri, are the owners and operators of Ripple Creek Lodge, providing hunting, fishing and horseback trips on public lands in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area of northwestern Colorado.
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