CongressEnvironmentHot SheetRecreation

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

Author: Erin Prater - August 29, 2018 - Updated: August 29, 2018

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LWCFAn interactive map produced by the the Center for Western Priorities highlights Colorado’s 30 completed and proposed Land and Water Conservation Fund projects. (Courtesy photo)

Just what has the endangered federal Land and Water Conservation Fund done for you?

If you’ve enjoyed some of Colorado’s breathtaking natural attractions like Rocky Mountain National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, perhaps more than you think.

Colorado Politics has kept you apprised of the plight of the LWCF, set to expire at the end of September.

The fund, which relies on federal oil and gas drilling lease revenues from offshore sites rather than tax revenue, was envisioned by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s and became fully funded starting in 1965. Its recommended funding is $900 million per year, although it rarely gets the full amount.

Congress allowed it to lapse in 2015, with conservative critics complaining that too much of the fund’s money went for federal rather than state projects. A compromise was reached to extend the fund until Sept. 30 of this year.

A chorus of politicos including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper have called on Congress to reauthorize it — as of yet, to no avail.

A report by the Center for Western Priorities released last week found that the fund was responsible for the completion of 15 public land and Forest Legacy projects in Colorado from 2014 through last year.

The completed projects help conserve some of the state’s most well known and loved natural tourist destinations, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. “Additionally, three projects that encompass 12,900 acres are in the process of being completed,” according to a press release from the center.

Among Colorado sites with projects still awaiting completion is the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, highlighted in the center’s report. LWCF funds would transfer a historical working ranch run by The Nature Conservancy — “home to one of the few wild bison herds in the United States” — to the National Park Service, “permanently protecting the historic and archaeological sites on the property and the critical groundwater of the sand dune ecosystem.” The project’s price tag: nearly $7 million.

To the casual reader, of more interest than the report is the center’s interactive map, which highlights Colorado’s 30 completed and proposed LWCF projects. Among them: nearly a million worth of work at Uncompahgre National Forest, $3 million worth of work at Sawtooth Mountain in northern Colorado, and more than $6 million worth of proposed work to the Blanca Wetlands Area of Critical Environmental Concern/Special Recreation Management Area in southern Colorado.

If you’re a proponent of the fund, that’s a lot of completed work to be thankful for — and a lot left to be accomplished.

If you’re not, that’s a lot to bemoan.

Colorado Politics’ Marianne Goodland contributed to this report.

Erin Prater

Erin Prater

Erin Prater is Colorado Politics' digital editor. She is a multimedia journalist with 15 years of experience writing, editing and designing for newspapers, magazines, websites and publishing houses. Her previous positions include military reporter at The Gazette, general assignment reporter at The Huerfano County (Colo.) World, copy editor at David C. Cook publishing house and adjunct mass communication instructor at Pueblo Community College. Her bylines include The New York Times Upfront, The Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Military Spouse magazine and Omaha Magazine (Omaha, Neb.). Her syndicated bylines include The Denver Post, MSNBC.com, Military.com and wire services.