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Editorial: Cory Gardner delivers with major land conservation and parks funding

The Denver Post
March 6, 2020

By The Denver Post Editorial Board

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has delivered the goods to Colorado, the West and America’s increasingly fragile ecology and environment.

The Republican from Colorado was somehow able to persuade President Donald Trump — who had made previous plans to end investment in land conservation almost completely — to back a plan that instead invests $900 million a year in conservation funds and gives an additional $1 billion a year to pay for a backlog of maintenance projects in national parks.

We’re surprised by the president’s complete reversal of policy and very pleased.

Gardner has done good work to advocate for a fully funded Land and Water Conservation Fund since taking office. The fund gets its revenue from royalties on offshore oil and gas drilling but seldom has all of the money raised through the taxes gone to the purpose of conserving land and protecting water. Lawmakers have raided the fund for other needs over the years. Trump wanted to take all the money in a budget proposal.

Under Gardner’s bipartisan bill announced last week, the nation’s ability to manage and increase public lands would be bolstered. This is critical at a time when animal species, including birds, deer, elk and many others, are struggling to find wild habitats that can sustain healthy populations and the globe is fighting deforestation and carbon-induced climate change.

Trump tweeted: “When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands. ALL thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT Conservative Leaders!”

Daines is a Republican from Montana who is also facing a tough re-election. Gardner has been a tireless supporter of Trump, so he clearly has the president’s ear. Gardner backed Trump’s failed plans to cut Medicaid; he voted against blocking Trump’s use of an executive order to declare an emergency and raid Department of Defense funds to build a border wall; and he refused to support impeachment or even to be critical of the president’s attempt to withhold millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine in exchange for political favors. Trump will hold a campaign event in Denver with Gardner next week.

Also deserving praise, are Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, who had launched a 30 by 30 plan to conserve at least 30% of America’s land and 30% of its ocean territory by 2030. It’s estimated only about 12% of U.S. lands and 26% of the federal ocean territory are permanently protected right now.

With the money made available by Trump, it could be possible to protect vast swaths of land, much of which is already owned by the federal government. Opposition to putting land under additional protection, frequently begins with the claim that the federal government cannot care for the land that is already in its care. Funding the backlog for national parks and providing resources for land and easement acquisition will help counter that argument.

We hope the money will help pave the way for the CORE Act — a bill supported by all of Colorado’s Democratic congressmen and its congresswoman that would give wilderness status, the highest level of protection for public lands, to about 400,000 acres in Colorado.

Gardner and Bennet stood side by side in a press conference about the funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Despite their differences, it appears the two have been able to work together during a difficult time for the entire nation. Perhaps there is still hope for America.

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