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Bleak to Bright: Future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015   

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The future appears positive for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal government program that in New Mexico has helped to create Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge and the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

A bipartisan deal recently reached in the Senate would extend funding for the 50-year-old program, which is set to expire at the end of September. Carrie Hamblen, executive director of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, said preserving public lands can help create tourism opportunities.

"The Land and Water Conservation Fund really helps us ensure that public lands will be protected," she said, "and then from there, the local communities can go ahead and explore all of the different options on how to really reap the economic benefits."

Outdoor recreation contributes an estimated $6 billion to New Mexico's economy each year and supports about 70,000 jobs. Created by Congress, money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund comes from fees paid by oil and gas companies for drilling offshore.

U.S. Interior Department Deputy Secretary Michael Connor said climate change is another factor in the mix, adding pressure to better protect dwindling water supplies.

"The dramatic droughts going on in the West, and just the fact that water resources are most affected by increasing temperatures - there is a renewed focus within the LWCF to specifically look at investments that protect watersheds," he said.

U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both D-N.M., are longtime supporters of permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the LWCF at $900 million per year. Even when full funding has been recommended, Congress typically raids the fund for other purposes.


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