Lien: Tell Sen. Cory Gardner to support Land and Water Conservation Fund (column) | VailDaily.com

Lien: Tell Sen. Cory Gardner to support Land and Water Conservation Fund (column)

David Lien
Valley Voices
David Lien
Special to the Daily

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Established in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund uses a small percentage of revenues from offshore drilling leases to conserve and expand public access to parks, wildlife habitats and public recreation areas. It has helped protect 5 million acres and generates $4 in economic value for every $1 invested. Nearly every county in America has benefited — all without depending on taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, the Land and Water Conservation Fund expired on Sept. 30, 2018. However, Congress has an opportunity to reauthorize this program during the current lame-duck session. As a result, hunters, anglers and other outdoorsmen and women across Colorado are urging Sen. Cory Gardner to talk with Senate leaders about the importance of considering the Land and Water Conservation Fund for a floor vote by the end of this Congress.

A recently released report sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership found that more than 9.5 million acres of public lands across the West have no legally established public access. “If policymakers are serious about improving public land access for hunting and fishing, they need to pass a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding,” the report states.

Colorado’s public lands are a major economic force in the state, but hundreds of square miles of federal land are inaccessible to the hikers, anglers and hunters who use them. More than 269,000 acres of federal public lands in Colorado are essentially inaccessible to the public because they are surrounded by private property, lack a public road to the area or are blocked off because of a parceling system from the railroad era, the study found. That’s about 450 square miles — an area slightly bigger than Rocky Mountain National Park.

Not only are those lands important to backcountry enthusiasts but also to Colorado’s expanding outdoor industry, said Brien Webster, coordinator for the Colorado and Wyoming chapters of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

“Public lands are there for you,” he said. “They belong to you. It’s one of the most democratic things we got in this country.”

Colorado’s outdoor industry is worth about $62.5 billion and supports more than half a million jobs, a recent state analysis found. Access to public land is one of the factors that draws people to the state, Webster said, but these lands are enduring increasing pressure by people that love them, sometimes to the detriment of wild lands and wildlife.

“More public lands just means we have more places to recreate close to home, which often leads to more days in the field,” he said. “If we eliminate barriers, people are going to spend more time outside.”

If Congress fails to pass legislation to reauthorize and fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the consequences will be real.

Now is the time to permanently reauthorize and fully dedicate funding to this important program for future generations of America’s hunters and anglers. We urge Gardner to stand with us in defending our most popular and successful conservation program. We need Senate leadership to hear that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is a top priority for sportsmen and women. For additional information, and to take action, visit https://www.backcountryhunters.org/take_action.

David Lien is a former Air Force officer and co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”