By Patrick Nolan / Executive Director, Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, and Maite Arce / President & CEO, Hispanic Access Foundation
Whether you are exploring Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, enjoying numerous spots in the city like Heritage Hills Park or Westgate Heights Park, or even learning about our region’s cultural heritage at Petroglyph National Monument, there is a common element that all these places share.
Each one of these sites – not to mention more than 1,200 other places throughout New Mexico – have received support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Yet, no matter how much of an impact LWCF has made not just in New Mexico, but also for the 42,000 parks and projects nationwide it has supported, the program is set to expire at the end of September unless Congress acts to reauthorize it.
Created in 1964 with strong bipartisan support, LWCF has gone on to become one of our nation’s most effective tools for conservation and providing local communities with access to the outdoors. More than $312 million has been used in New Mexico by local municipalities, schools, state parks and federal agencies for a variety of reasons like expanding parks, building new trails and sports fields, or renovating facilities such as bathrooms. Unlike many federal programs, the impact of LWCF to the community is tangible and has contributed to the fact that Albuquerque has one of the nation’s highest parkland to city area ratios.
It’s also important to understand that this has all been done at no cost to taxpayers. LWCF is funded by a small portion of offshore oil and gas drilling royalties. While that amount is capped at $900 million, Congress determines its annual allocation, leading to the program only being fully funded twice in its more than 50-year history.
This is where you can begin to see the true value of LWCF. These are places where we can be active, spend time with family, explore the wilderness or connect with our history. This is where communities come together to celebrate birthdays, learn how to ride a bike, or spend time on a playground. These parks act as the glue for many communities throughout Bernalillo County.
But now it’s time for Congress to permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF.
The bipartisan spirit that led to LWCF’s initial passage is being rekindled as a growing number of political adversaries are coming together to share their support. All of New Mexico’s delegation has signed on as co-sponsors of bills supporting LWCF – except for Republican Rep. Steve Pearce.
Earlier this week, Pearce told the Albuquerque Journal that he supports reauthorizing, although not permanently, and fully funding LWCF. In regard to funding, Pearce voted against fully funding LWCF in 2016 and this past summer voted twice to take funds away from the program. We want to believe him, and his constituents who have had hundreds of parks and projects supported by LWCF want to believe him, but Pearce needs to back up his words with action.
This includes the end to letting politics hold LWCF hostage. When it originally passed in 1964, it was done so for a 50-year period. When it came up for reauthorization in 2015, Congress could only muster a three-year extension, which led to our current predicament. Why should we continue jeopardizing a program that has so much benefit for local communities and doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime? The lack of permanent reauthorization makes LWCF just another political pawn in Washington, and that’s a disservice to what the program represents and means to communities nationwide.
LWCF has touched the lives of so many in New Mexico – you likely live mere minutes from a site supported by it. To let such a valuable and effective conservation tool expire would be a tragedy that would reverberate through future generations. LWCF represents a promise to the American people to conserve our public lands and ensure that everyone has access to them. Let’s make sure we keep that promise.