Reauthorization for the half-century-old and hugely successful Land and Water Conservation Fund didn't survive beyond the end of the federal fiscal year on Sunday. But already there is solid bipartisan support for permanently reauthorizing the fund.
We hope the effort proceeds quickly, because the source of funds for this important program has been temporarily halted. And we applaud Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and 3rd District Rep. Scott Tipton for continuing to support measures to do just that.
The LWCF was created in 1964 to help preserve, develop and ensure access to important lands and facilities resources for recreation and conservation. It has played a major role in recreation resources in western Colorado.
■ Each year, an estimated 66,000 people hike in Devils Canyon southwest of Fruita in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. Much of the land they hike on was acquired from private owners with LWCF money.
■ Money from the fund helped with development of the Blue Heron Section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail.
■ The fund also assisted in obtaining conservation easements on private land to protect Gunnison sage grouse.
■ In addition, LWCF money helps fund urban parks and playgrounds.
Money for the LWCF comes from royalties paid on offshore oil and gas leasing, not from individual taxpayers. But payments to the fund halted with the end of the fiscal year. So it is imperative that Congress act quickly to ensure the royalty payments are reinstated and money can soon be flowing to federal, state and local entities for important conservation purposes.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday approved a bill by a 16-7 vote to permanently reauthorize the fund and ensure full funding for it. That would mean some $900 million a year in leasing money would automatically be available for conservation assistance at the federal, state and local level.
Sen. Gardner was instrumental not only in supporting the bill in committee, but in fighting off amendments from some Republicans that would have seriously hampered the effectiveness of the bill.
Sen. Bennet is not on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but like Gardner, he has publicly supported permanent reauthorization of the LWCF.
A slightly different bill to reauthorize the LWCF passed through the House Natural Resources Committee in mid-September, with support from Rep. Tipton.
The aim is to have differences between the two bills ironed out and a final version can be passed by Congress before the end of the year.
We hope that can be accomplished swiftly. At a time when there is so much partisan rancor in Congress, permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund is one thing that most members on both sides of the aisle support. And with good reason, because the LWCF provides great benefits to all their constituents, whether they be Republican, Democratic or Independent.
And we thank members of our congressional delegation for continuing to work hard to see the fund reauthorized.