Western businesses speak up about preserving federal outdoors money

Author: Joey Bunch - September 6, 2018 - Updated: September 24, 2018

parksGarden of the Gods is Colorado Springs is one of the national parks that benefit from federal dollars in Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Business groups in four Western states, including Colorado, are speaking up in defense of a soon-to-expire federal financial support for public lands, historical sites and outdoor recreation.

An alliance of business groups in Colorado, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico said the Land and Water Conservation Fund helps fuel their outdoor economies. They released a poll — one in which only 31 percent of participants identified as Democrats — that showed strong support for the federal spending that’s being slashed by the Trump administration.

Without action from Congress or an unlikely intervention from the White House, the fund that’s supposed to deliver $900 million in revenue from oil and gas leases will be slashed by 90 percent, as part of President Trump’s larger goal of reducing government spending.

Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Michael Bennet, D-Denver, and some members of the Colorado House delegation, have both pushed to reauthorize funding for the program.

RELATED: INSIGHTS: Left won’t take Gardner at his word on support for parks

Gardner also is co-sponsoring another bill, the Restore Our Parks Act.

The LWCF, however, currently is the only federal dollars earmarked solely for conservation of national parks, forests, refuges, wilderness areas and historic battlefields, as well as state and local parks.

On a hike with Colorado Politics last month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he had been a stronger supporter of the LWCF as a congressman from Montana. He said the program’s goals ultimately would be funded by other bookkeeping measures, including the Restore Our Parks Act.

The bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act would direct $6.5 billion toward parks to address a $12 billion maintenance backlog.

The bill is pending in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Gardner is a member.

Strategies 360 surveyed more than 200 business owners or managers with at least two full-time employees. More than 4 out of 5 of those in Colorado said it was a benefit to the economy. Support also was at 81 percent in Nevada, 78 percent in New Mexico and 74 percent in Montana.

“What was most striking to me as the intensity of that support,” said Kevin Ingham, the senior vice president of research for Strategies 360, and left-leaning public affairs firm with an office in Colorado.

Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance commissioned the poll along with the Business for Montana’s Outdoors, Get Outdoors Nevada and the Partnership for Responsible Business. They told reporters on a conference call Thursday that the Land and Water Conservation Fund had invested $1.26 billion into the outdoor economies of the four states.

Colorado has been a prime beneficiary, as Colorado Politics’ Erin Parter reported last week.

RELATED: What has the fed’s conservation fund done for you? Perhaps more than you think

Thursday morning business owner Patrick Webber spoke about how federal dollars generate local spending and spurs business growth with new jobs.

He founded Denver-based Fourpoints energy bars with his brother, Kevin, more than a decade ago.

There’s a need for his slow-burning nutrition products because federal lands are widely explored, Patrick Webber said.

“We kind of grew up living it,” said the Colorado native. “And that’s why we created out business, like a lot of businesses, who depend on weekend warriors.”

Marne Hayes, executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, who led Thursday’s call, said, “LWCF is arguably the most successful conservation program in our nation’s history to protect the great outdoors, whether we are talking about wilderness areas, mountain ranges, fishing access sites or a city park.”

Added Beau Kiklis, an organizer for the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance: “From constructing bike paths that help parents get their kids outside and to school safely to protecting the public lands that attract so many people to our state, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has made every community in Colorado more attractive to businesses and the workers they want to hire. LWCF promotes healthy environments, healthy economies, and healthy communities, all of which are vital factors to large and small businesses setting up shop and thriving in Colorado.”

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.