Colorado's U.S. senators co-sponsored a bill that would guarantee funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
No surprise there as the LWCF takes government revenues from offshore drilling and uses them to preserve and protect outdoor spaces. In a state renowned for its love of the outdoors, it's a political no-brainer to support a funding mechanism that expands access and enjoyment of recreation in this state.
Since its inception in 1964, virtually every area of the nation has seen benefits from the LWCF, including Mesa County and Colorado's Western Slope.
As the Sentinel's Charles Ashby reported in Wednesday's paper, this bill calls for permanently funding the LWCF to the $900 million level that was originally planned. But only twice in more than 50 years has Congress ever done that. As a result, about $22 billion over that time has gone to other purposes, according to the LWCF Coalition.
Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, made a clear case for why the LWCF needs more consistency.
"Colorado projects rely on LWCF funding, and fighting year after year about how much money to provide the program does not provide the long-term planning certainty our outdoor and conservation communities deserve," he said.
Yet Gardner is in hot water with conservation and outdoor groups who see his support of the LWCF as low-hanging political fruit. He talks a good game about protecting public lands for future generations, but he's taking hits for supporting a former oil lobbyist to head the Interior Department.
We take no issue with Gardner's support of David Bernhardt — who grew up in Rifle — to run Interior. Presidents get to choose their Cabinet officials and Bernhardt, in our view, hasn't done anything to disqualify him from the job. Our other U.S. senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, disagreed. He opposed Bernhardt's confirmation after supporting his nomination as deputy secretary.
So, Gardner's support of Bernhardt doesn't make him anti-public lands as far as we're concerned. But he hasn't exactly been a champion of public lands in Colorado, either.
Teresa Martinez, executive director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, points out that in the 10 years that Coloradans have been fighting to protect places in the CORE Act, Gardner has never spoken up to support any of the designations it includes.
Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse have introduced the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which unites and improves four previously introduced bills: The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act; and the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act.
Drawing upon input from counties, businesses, ranchers, outdoor recreation groups, conservationists and sportsmen over many years, the CORE Act seeks to protect — through a variety of designations — about 400,000 acres of public land largely situated on Colorado's Western Slope.
Becoming a vocal proponent of the CORE Act would help Gardner show that he means what he says about fighting to protect public lands for future generations of Coloradans.