LAS VEGAS SUN: Conservation fund vital to communities, economy

By: Maite Arce

While the Strip is what comes to mind for many when they think of Las Vegas, Lake Mead has carved out a nice place in Nevada’s tourism economy.

Last year, more than 8 million visitors made their way to Lake Mead, making it the eighth most visited National Park Service site. For such excursions as boating, kayaking, hiking and viewing wildlife, Lake Mead attracts visitors from throughout the country.

What most people may not realize is that Lake Mead — the largest man-made reservoir in the nation and the first designated National Recreation Area — received nearly $5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a government program funded through offshore oil and gas drilling royalties. Congress allowed that program to expire at the end of September. 

In its 54-year history, the fund invested more than $102 million to protect Nevada’s forests and wildlife refuges, and increase recreation access to places like Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Toiyabe National Forest, Valley of Fire State Park and Ash Canyon Gateway in Carson City.

It’s also been responsible for supporting countless local parks, including Freedom Park, Lorenzi Park and Sunset Park.

We can all look at these places funded through the LWCF — more than 300 statewide — and clearly see the benefits the program brings to protecting landscapes or providing outdoor access. It’s where our families meet, where children play, where communities gather. The film “Land, Water y Comunidad,” from Hispanic Access Foundation, profiled LWCF sites from across the county, including Spring Mountain Ranch State Park outside of Las Vegas. The fund is why this park is a destination for those looking for green space, picnic areas and sports fields.

If you ask the business community, however, there is another critical byproduct from investing in these sites.

The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation generates $12.6 billion in consumer spending in Nevada, 87,000 jobs which generate $4 billion in wages and salaries, and produces $1.1 billion annually in state and local tax revenue. Nationwide, outdoor recreation consumer spending tops $887 billion and 7.6 million jobs. Furthermore, the U.S. Census reports that each year, more than 788,000 people hunt, fish or enjoy wildlife-watching in Nevada, contributing $917 million in wildlife recreation spending to the state economy.

Additional evidence of business support was also uncovered in September’s Conservation Colorado poll of business owners in western states. In Nevada, 81 percent of business owners believe programs like the fund help the state’s economy, and 84 percent believe Congress should reauthorize the fund.

So if it is as popular and beneficial as it sounds, why did Congress let it expire? It wasn’t for a lack of trying. The fund has received tremendous bipartisan support — the House and Senate bills both had co-sponsors from each side of the political aisle, and the bills were even voted out of their respective committees. Yet it never made it to a full floor vote.

This is why leadership from members like Sen. Catherine Cortes Masto, D-Nev., who serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is critical to saving the fund. It’s also an opportunity for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to leave a positive legacy for Nevada’s outdoors.

We need them to ensure that this program is in place for future generations of Nevadans — we need them to help reauthorize the fund before the session ends in December. It’s too important for the state’s economy.

Maite Arce is president and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation.

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