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Robert Mueller now expected to reveal findings of his probe right after the November midterm elections. Also on the Thursday rundown: the poorest people pay the highest taxes in states like Nevada; and the Terminator fights gerrymandering.

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Veterans Raise Their Voices for Conservation Fund

New Mexico's Eagle Nest Lake State Park has benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that ends in September without reauthorization from Congress. (emnrd.state.nm.us)
New Mexico's Eagle Nest Lake State Park has benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that ends in September without reauthorization from Congress. (emnrd.state.nm.us)
July 26, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In New Mexico and across the country, many U.S. veterans are calling for the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, saying access to public lands was beneficial to them on their return from active duty.

The program has improved and protected public lands, national parks and local recreation sites in New Mexico for more than 50 years, but it expires at the end of September if Congress fails to reauthorize it. Garrett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain West coordinator with the Vet Voice Foundation, said when he returned to the U.S. after serving in Iraq and Kosovo, he was grateful that America's public lands were available to him.

"I think a lot of us come from backgrounds where we likely got outdoors, even before we served in the military, with our families,” Reppenhagen said. “They're places where we spent family vacations and, as U.S. service members, we swore an oath to protect these lands."

He added the fund has also helped preserve military heritage sites, battlefields and monuments. It doesn't rely on taxpayer dollars, but is funded by oil royalties from offshore drilling in public waters.

Reppenhagen said like many Americans, veterans count on public lands for fishing, hiking, camping and hunting. But they also turn to the outdoors to heal from the trauma of war. He noted that since 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has invested more than $312 million to protect open spaces and trails and improve recreation access in New Mexico.

"Sheldon Canyon is an an incredible feature that I think a lot of veterans are able to use. Eagle Nest Lake in New Mexico is also used for Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars,” he said; “so, a lot of improvements to New Mexico's public lands."

Outdoor recreation contributes nearly $10 million to New Mexico's economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs in the state. The Vets Voice Foundation wants Congress to permanently authorize and fully fund LWCF. Full funding has only happened twice in the program's 52-year history, as a portion of the money is typically reallocated to other projects.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM