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Sen. Bingaman Backs Bill to Bring Offshore Drilling Benefits to NM

June 27, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Hunting and fishing access, parks and trails in New Mexico all stand to benefit under a bill re-introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman. It would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congress established this pot of money decades ago as a way to share the wealth of offshore oil and gas drilling revenues around the country, but the money is often diverted.

If funding comes through this time, projects are ready in New Mexico. One is Miranda Canyon, near the Carson National Forest. Jere Krakow, retired National Park Service National Trails superintendent, has long advocated dedicating the area to tourism and recreation opportunities.

"Recreation values include walking, hiking or perhaps horseback riding, sight-seeing. There is a route of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail; the ruts are still intact."

The fund is set at $900 million annually; $3.4 million is being requested for Miranda Canyon, and funding needed for the future of a national wildlife refuge on an old dairy property in South Valley. Albuquerque sportsman and farmer Kent Salazar has his fingers crossed that the money comes through this time. He says tough economic times are exactly why it's so important to boost sportsman access to public lands.

"Our local economies - like our small towns that are around these wilderness areas and trails and access to our national forests - they really benefit from all of this."

Angela West is president of a neighborhood association in the South Valley, where county commissioners are looking to the fund to help turn the old Price's Dairy into a national wildlife refuge so kids would have access to it for education and exercise. West says it would also be a tourism draw because the area is a migratory bird route, and she adds that the region sorely needs an economic revival.

"It would be an economic anchor. It is a pivotal shifting point for us on who we are and what we have to offer. This refuge will turn around one of the most under-served and stressed communities."

Fully funding the Land & Water Conservation Fund would not be a tax increase, but money originally designated by Congress for the fund often is sent elsewhere, especially in tough budget times.

The bill, S. 1265, is available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - NM