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Public-Lands Advocates Bring Conservation Message to Interior Secretary in Vail

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped increase access to outdoor-recreation and other conservation efforts in Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. (NPS)
The Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped increase access to outdoor-recreation and other conservation efforts in Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. (NPS)
June 10, 2019

VAIL, Colo. — Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is coming home to Colorado for the Western Governors' Association conference today in Vail. Public-lands advocates are asking the former Rifle resident to prioritize conservation over extraction on public lands, and to reverse a proposal to cut the Land and Water Conservation Fund budget by 95%.

Kristine Oblock, clean water advocate with Environment Colorado, said governors representing seven western states attending the conference have seen combined benefits from the fund of nearly $1.6 billion.

"That adds up to a huge amount of protected lands, improved access to the outdoors and a significant boost for those states' economies,” Oblock said. “We hope that coming out of this conference, Secretary Bernhardt can walk away with a clear message that there is broad support for public lands protections from the West."

In 2018, Congress voted to permanently renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but did not guarantee funding.

Bernhardt has made public statements in support of the fund. The former oil and gas lobbyist also has continued to advance the Trump administration's goal of removing what it sees as barriers to coal, oil and gas extraction on public lands in order to achieve "energy dominance."

Emily Gedeon, conservation program director with the Colorado Sierra Club, said prioritizing oil and gas development over conservation goes against the Interior Department's mandate to act as a steward for lands owned by all Americans. She noted the significant potential for renewable-energy development on public lands at former extraction sites.

Gedeon said Americans should be able to look to leadership at Interior to ensure the nation's mountains, lakes and streams are protected for future generations.

"It's so important that public lands aren't completely leased out and forever changed or damaged by coal, oil and gas companies,” Gedeon said. “Public lands belong to the people who live in this country, not the polluting companies that are trying to make money off of them."

The Sierra Club also supports fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been called America's most successful conservation and recreation program. The fund has made many conservation projects in Colorado possible, including the Uncompahgre, Arapaho-Roosevelt, Gunnison and Rio Grande national forests, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO