From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Outdoors advocates are lamenting the failure of Congress to extend the life of a program that has helped fund public-land projects for half a century, including many in western Colorado.
But some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, say the Land and Water Conservation Fund program is in need of reform.
Congress failed to reauthorize the program before it expired on Wednesday, despite hopes from some in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., that reauthorization be included in a stopgap funding bill that was passed before that same deadline.
Bennet and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also signed a bipartisan letter from dozens of senators calling for permanent reauthorization of the fund. The letter calls it “America’s most successful conservation and recreation program.”
The letter adds, “Investments in LWCF support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans, in rural communities and cities alike.”
The program uses no taxpayer dollars, and instead is funded primarily by royalties paid to the government by companies doing off-shore oil and gas development.
According to Bennet’s office, the fund “supports the conservation of parks, open spaces, and wildlife habitat for the benefit of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.”
Regionally, some of the program’s beneficiaries have included the Colorado and Dinosaur national monuments, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks, and White River and Uncompahgre national forests.
Will Roush, conservation director for the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop group, said that statewide the fund has paid for more than $250 million in conservation and recreation projects.
According to the Center for Western Priorities conservation group, more than half of members in the U.S. House of Representatives support the program. But it says U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, “is holding LWCF hostage,” having vowed to block the program unless reforms are made, but not introducing a bill or allowing consideration of the program’s renewal.
In a statement released Sept. 25, Bishop countered that it’s special interests who “seek to hijack LWCF to continue to expand the federal estate and divert even more monies away from localities.”
He said any reauthorization of the fund will prioritize funding for local communities as originally intended under the program.
Bishop has been an advocate of transferring federal lands to state control.
In a statement, Tipton said that the Land and Water Conservation Fund “is a valuable tool for conservation, but after 50 years, some reforms are needed to ensure it is still achieving its original mission and that the federal government is properly managing the lands it already has.
“Managing nearly 640 million acres in the United States, the federal government is by far the largest landowner in most Western states. Rather than increasing LWCF funding in order to obtain more federal property, land management agencies should focus on managing the lands they already have. LWCF reauthorization provides an opportunity for reforms that support addressing the growing maintenance backlogs for national parks, roads, trails and facilities.”