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President signs bill to fully fund LWCF

Grand Junction Sentinel
August 5, 2020

By Charles Ashby Aug 5, 2020

President Donald Trump signed The Great American Outdoors Act into law Tuesday, meaning that for only the third time since it was created 55 years ago, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund will be fully funded.

That comes as welcome news not only to environmentalists who want more money to go towards preserving and protecting public lands, but also to others who say it helps support and create jobs in the outdoors industry.

As a result, instead of Congress appropriating a little more than half of the $900 million a year raised by the original 1965 law that created the fund as it normally does, all of that money will go towards it.

The money comes from royalty payments from offshore drilling.

Under the bill, that money is to be used for deferred maintenance projects on public lands controlled by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.

“This is the greatest conservation achievement in generations, one that will benefit every state and help communities in need recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who introduced the bill earlier this year. “The Great American Outdoors Act will create well over 100,000 jobs nationwide and thousands of jobs in Colorado in our mountain towns and recreation communities that were hit hard by the pandemic.”

The act cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on a 310-107 vote last month.

The Senate approved it in June 73-25. While both votes were bipartisan, that wasn’t the case among Colorado’s delegation.

All Colorado Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, voted for Gardner’s bill, but all Republican House members, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, opposed it.

The bill comes on the heels of last year’s measure that permanently reauthorized the fund, but didn’t address how it should be funded.

In 2018, Congress allowed the fund to expire despite widespread attempts to keep it alive. That measure, too, passed with bipartisan support, including from Gardner and Bennet.

“This is the culmination of hard work by Coloradans who have put in the work, year after year, calling for Congress to invest in our public lands, and support our state’s economy,” Bennet said. “Now we can finally begin making critical investments in our forests, parks and public lands.”

To celebrate the bill’s signing, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that all entrance fees to lands managed by his department will be waived for today only.

That waiver, however, does not apply to other fees, such as for overnight camping or cabin rentals.

Colorado has received nearly $270 million from the fund over the past five decades, including for such places as Great Sand Dunes National Park; Uncompahgre, Arapaho-Roosevelt, Gunnison and Rio Grande national forests; and the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Over the years, money from the fund also has been used to help create such local recreational areas as the Blue Heron Trail along the Colorado River in Grand Junction, the Rifle Metropolitan Park in Garfield County and Crawford Reservoir State Park in Delta County.

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