Sen. Cory Gardner column: Public lands package delivers for Colorado, permanently reauthorizes LWCF
The United States Senate delivered a big win for public lands this week, and I couldn’t be prouder to have played such an instrumental role. After four years working on public lands bills and fighting to permanently reauthorize the crown jewel of conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the Senate recently passed the largest public lands bill in more than a decade.
Since entering the U.S. Senate, I’ve been a strong advocate for LWCF. I have repeatedly fought for the permanent reauthorization of the program as it would provide certainty for and benefit the economy, sportsmen, wildlife and the next generation of Coloradans who wish to enjoy our state’s great outdoors. After years of work, I played a key role in securing the first up-or-down vote on permanent reauthorization in the program’s history.
I’ve championed LWCF throughout my time in the Senate because of how important it is to all Coloradans who love our great outdoors. Outdoor recreation in Colorado has made it the destination for people looking for adventure all year long. You can hike in the summer, hunt in the fall, ski in the winter and raft in the spring, and these activities, and any more, have led to an outdoor economy that is booming. It generates $28 billion in consumer spending in the state, $2 billion in state and local tax revenue, and employs close to 230,000 people. We have this economy because of our public lands, and it is critical we continue working together to protect our public lands for future generations.
LWCF helps sustain access to public lands and provides access to land previously closed off to recreationists. According to a report published by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation, in Colorado there are 250,000 acres currently closed off to the public. In the program’s first 46 years, LWCF grants helped to fund more than 970 projects in Colorado alone, and there are many projects in Colorado currently utilizing LWCF funding to improve access to Colorado’s public lands. The fund has invested more than $268 million to protect Colorado’s outdoor places, public access to trails, climbing spots and sportsmen access. I’m thrilled we were able to finally permanently reauthorize this commonsense program supported by Coloradans across the political spectrum. This is a milestone for the future of Colorado’s public lands.
In addition to LWCF permanent reauthorization, there are also several other important pieces of Colorado-specific legislation I authored and have been working on for years, along with others I directly supported, that are included in the final public land’s package, and I am excited we were able to get them across the finish line.
One bipartisan bill I spearheaded will expand Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument by hundreds of acres. Another one of my initiatives, the Amache Study Act, directs the National Park Service to study the Amache site in Granada — which was used as a Japanese internment camp during World War II — for inclusion as a unit of the National Park System. Also included is a piece of legislation that will extend the authorization of the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Implementation Program. This program is a partnership between local, state, federal agencies, water and power interests, and environmental groups working to recover endangered fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
These bills, along with the permanent reauthorization of LWCF, are a huge win for Colorado’s outdoors. LWCF is not just about access to national forests, or BLM land, or national parks. It is also about access to local parks, bike trails, playgrounds — those little slices of heaven among the concrete and the chaos. Colorado’s great outdoors are a national treasure, and I’ll always fight to protect our public lands for future generations of Coloradans to enjoy.
Cory Gardner is a U.S. senator for the state of Colorado.
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