Opinion

THE PODIUM | Let’s reauthorize the crown jewel of conservation programs

Author: Dave Wiens - September 5, 2018 - Updated: September 5, 2018

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Dave Wiens

Last week I joined fellow community members, park staff and elected officials at our stunning Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to celebrate the addition of 2,494 acres to the park. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of America’s best and oldest conservation programs, made this possible.

And yet, despite the program’s 53-year history and long, impressive roster of enhancements made for public lands in our backyard and across the country, the LWCF could expire Sept. 30.

Established in 1964, the LWCF was a bipartisan commitment by Congress to the American people to use royalties, not taxpayer dollars, from offshore oil and gas extraction to protect natural areas and resources and to provide for outdoor recreation and access. The LWCF has invested more than $260 million to protect Colorado’s unparalleled outdoors and provide recreation opportunities that help fuel our state’s $28 billion outdoor recreation industry —an industry I have been immersed in since I was a teenager growing up in suburban Denver.

From our vantage point at Pulpit Rock high on the south rim of the Black Canyon, I could see hints in the distance of the many world-class mountain biking destinations on the Western Slope. These trails are close to home for us, as well as crucial for the vitality of our communities.

I could see the Grand Mesa and Grand Junction, home to so many great places to ride. I could see the Telluride area, where LWCF funds have helped protect and provide public access for amazing mountain bike trails. I could see Delta, Montrose, the Uncompahgre Plateau, Ridgway, the San Juan Mountains, Gunnison, Crested Butte and more, all places where I have ridden my mountain bike and enjoyed our great state over the years. And beyond Colorado’s borders, LWCF funding has made eight International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) EPIC trails possible.

Back here at home, LWCF funding has contributed more than $70 million to trails in Colorado’s national forests. This includes the Continental Divide Trail, a once-in-a-lifetime goal for mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians alike. While I’m primarily a mountain biker, I took in this 360-degree view in the park from the perspectives of my neighbors, too. Hiking, backpacking, trail running, paddling, hunting, angling, horseback riding and possibilities for motorized recreation and more, were all around us.

On Pulpit Rock, I had the perfect perch to observe and be surrounded by vast public lands, natural splendor and opportunities for outdoor recreation that only Colorado can provide. LWCF is one of the most robust tools we have to support these opportunities.

At the Black Canyon event, our U.S. senators, Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), as well as U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), all voiced their support for permanent reauthorization of the LWCF by the September 30th deadline. Sen. Gardner has co-sponsored legislation for permanent reauthorization of the bipartisan program, which the senator said has support from 49 peers in his chamber and more than 230 representatives in the House. Despite the support, the LWCF has a small but strong opposition who hold the power to impede the legislative process for any reauthorization.

There is no doubt that this program has been pivotal in protecting and enhancing public lands for decades, and has created more and better opportunities for Coloradans and all Americans to get outside, enjoy the outdoors and lead happier and healthier lives. Instead of the perpetual debate over whether this common sense, critical conservation program should continue; permanent reauthorization would allow for more important discussions. For instance, discussing solutions for more efficient land management to better support LWCF-funded projects.

Permanent reauthorization of the LWCF could become a cornerstone for a new and more effective era of ensuring the future of our nation’s cherished public lands. A future that will allow generation after generation to enjoy the natural assets of our country, like those that surrounded me as I stood high above the Gunnison River on the edge of the Black Canyon.

We are requesting strong leadership on the LWCF from Sen. Gardner, Sen. Bennet, Rep. Tipton and the rest of the Colorado delegation to drive permanent reauthorization across the finish line before Sept. 30. Mountain bikers and our fellow public lands users across the nation benefit from this funding, and we look forward to the program’s continued success.

Please, join us by contacting your representatives in Congress and telling them to do what it takes to permanently reauthorize the LWCF by Sept. 30.

Dave Wiens

Dave Wiens

Dave Wiens is executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. He is a member of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame who founded and led the non-profit, Gunnison Trails, as well as the Mountain Sports program at Western State Colorado University.