What do Chaco Cultural National Historical Park, Bandelier National Monument, and Santa Fe’s Candelero and Solano parks all have in common? They all received support and funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For more than 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been one of our country’s most successful conservation programs.
The program has without much fanfare provided funding for more than 42,000 projects across the nation, from small municipal parks and playgrounds to places like the Grand Canyon National Park. You would think a program with such an impressive record of success would be on track to continue well into the future. Unfortunately, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is set to expire in September of this year, unless Congress acts to reauthorize it.
The way the program works is quite simple and does not cost the U.S. taxpayer a dime. Since 1965, a portion of fees collected from offshore oil and gas drilling went into the fund that provides support for hunting and fishing access, wildlife habitat improvements and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities. While the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been extremely successful in its mission, things could have worked better. Over the years, more than $21 billion has been diverted away from its intended outdoor recreation and conservation purposes. Which is why Congress needs to come together and fix this. The solution is to dedicate full and permanent funding for the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
One of my favorite places to fish is Eagle Nest Lake State Park in the Moreno Valley 30 miles east of Taos, on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. Eagle Nest received more than $2 million for development and acquisitions from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. On a recent visit, I woke up early to avoid the winds ginned up by summer storms rolling in and out of the area. Tying my own flies and having a successful catch was exhilarating. When not looking at my rod tip waiting on a fish to strike, I took in the stunning sights surrounding the lake — mountain views, blue skies and wildlife are abundant in the sky and the shore.
In New Mexico, most of our leaders understand the far-reaching benefits of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Both Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., recently added their names to a letter with senators from both parties that calls on congressional leadership to support full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
At the local level, the city of Santa Fe passed a resolution to join the broad chorus of support for this program. I can’t fathom a better issue suited to wide bipartisan support. The Land and Water Conservation Fund touches all New Mexicans, from those who hunt, fish and explore the backcountry to those who enjoy recreating and gathering in municipal parks across the state — the Land and Water Conservation Fund is for everyone.
Let’s hope that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is not allowed to expire this fall. We have seen over 50 years of proven success, and we need Congress to put aside partisan wrangling for a while and get together to ensure this important program continues.
Christine Gonzales is a native New Mexican and retired from state government. While working at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, she became interested in hunting and fishing, which are now among her passions. She lives in Santa Fe.