WASHINGTON – A bill to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, led by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., passed Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Gardner and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., introduced the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act on April 9. Although the LWCF has been permanently authorized by Congress, it continues to be subject to federal appropriations. The bill would remove the requirement that the LWCF must be appropriated, and instead, would make $900 million available each year for use. In remarks after the vote, Gardner said passage through committee is a “very significant watermark in the work that we continue to do going forward.”
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the crown jewel of conservation programs, and now that we have successfully permanently authorized the program, the next step is to make the funding of the program automatic,” Gardner said in a news release. “Colorado projects rely on LWCF funding, and fighting year after year about how much money to provide the program does not provide the long-term planning certainty our outdoor and conservation communities deserve.”
The bill has garnered support from Colorado lawmakers and environmental organizations, including Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who is a cosponsor of the bill.
“For more than 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped protect Colorado’s iconic landscapes, expand outdoor recreation and boost our local economy. After permanently reauthorizing the program earlier this year, we must provide consistent full funding to ensure LWCF reaches its potential,” Bennet said in an email to The Durango Herald. “Passing this bill ... is an important step forward, but more work remains to fulfill our promise to the next generation of Americans by fully funding the program.”
Among the organizations that expressed support for the bill’s passage was San Juan Citizens Alliance.
“We’re thrilled to see the Senate taking the next steps to guarantee full funding for LWCF,” said Mark Pearson, SJCA executive director. “It’s been crucial for many projects in Southwest Colorado, such as the 10,000 acres purchased on Red Mountain Pass, in a widely supported community effort about 15 years ago. It’s critical to securing the recreation and wildlife benefits we all enjoy here.”
The bill now faces a full vote on the Senate floor, which will likely occur early next year, followed by a vote in the House on the companion bill.
Ayelet Sheffey is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.