Federal parks fund dies, but hope is strong in Colorado

Author: Joey Bunch - October 2, 2018 - Updated: October 18, 2018

BennetU.S. Sen. Michael Bennet talks to rangers as they celebrate the birthday of the National Park Service in 2017. (Photo courtesy of the senator’s office vid Facebook)

The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund that’s put $268 million into more than 1,000 Colorado projects expired over the weekend, but Mountain West advocates are hopeful it will have another life.

The $900 million program was slashed this year by the Trump administration and failed to get reauthorized by the Sept. 30 deadline. The fun’s money comes from offshore oil leases and goes to protect parks, forests, cultural sites and water resources.

The first step toward resurrection, however, could come as early as Tuesday. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on up a bill to make funding permanent. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner are co-sponsors of the Land and Water Conservation Authorizing and Funding Act.

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“The expiration of a widely popular program like LWCF demonstrates just how broken Washington is,” Bennet said in a statement Monday. “If we don’t want to find ourselves in this exact position again down the road, we must permanently reauthorize LWCF.

“And if we want to grow our outdoor recreation economy and protect treasured landscapes, we must fully fund it. I’ll keep working across the aisle to find a solution that gives this conservation tool the longevity and funding it deserves.”

Gardner also has been an advocate for the fund.  Bennet and Gardner also are co-sponsors of the Restore Our Parks Act, which also is on the Senate committee’s Tuesday calendar.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told Colorado Politics in August that the administration is focused on efficiency, and the new parks bill accomplishes the same mission in a better way.

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Restore Our Parks raises about $6.5 billion in five years to tackle a maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion for America’s national parks.

The left-leaning advocacy group Colorado Moms Know Best issued a statement from “head mom” Jen Clanahan Monday urging Bennet to fight for the LWCF.

“On Friday we lost one of the best federal programs for healthy kids: the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Moms depend on recreational areas to get our kids away from the omnipresent screens, run around outside, breathe fresh air and release that seemingly endless energy. LWCF has made possible many of our playgrounds, soccer fields, bike paths, and local and state parks that moms use most. Without federal funds from LWCF, our state will struggle to build new recreational areas as our state grows, making existing ones as crowded as our roads.”

The Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association was also disappointed at the fund’s expiration, noting the program’s support from both Democrats and Republicans.

“We remain hopeful that Congress will do right by our nation’s outdoors and fully fund and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund when they return after the elections,” executive director Amy Roberts said in a statement.

“In the meantime, OIA will use every tool at its disposal to inform our members and local communities about LWCF’s impact to their daily lives and why it is vital to get it reauthorized and fully funded. We urge everyone who cares about our public lands to contact their representatives in Congress and tell them to get LWCF reauthorized once and for all.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.