Conservation fund is good for New Mexico businesses

A few years ago, I moved out West for the same reasons many young people are doing so these days — I was in awe of the mountains, and unlike in Oklahoma, where less than 5 percent of the land is public, I could access vast areas to hike, hunt, fish and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors. But public lands have given me much more than just places to play — they have enabled me to pursue the life I want, living, working and one day raising a family in a small town like Chama.

Where industries such as logging and mining have declined, the outdoor recreation and tourism industries are taking root, breathing new life into Chama and countless communities like it across the Mountain West. We saw four new businesses open up this year — nothing to sneeze at in a town whose population hovers around 1,000. In Chama, it’s a combination of folks who travel from near and far to marvel at the aspen forests along the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Continental Divide Trail hikers, hunters and fishermen that keep my wife and I in business at the Chama Trails Inn.

So when I got the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., recently to speak with our representatives in Congress about the importance of protecting and funding public lands, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to share with them that New Mexico’s national forests, monuments and trails aren’t just beautiful places to visit — they’re vital to the livelihoods of countless folks like me. In fact, a recent survey of small business owners along the Continental Divide Trail showed that 97 percent of us feel that protecting public lands is important to the well-being of our local economies.

We are lucky here in New Mexico to have senators and representatives who understand the importance of public lands to our state’s economy and culture — that much was clear from meeting with them and their staff. I applaud Sen. Martin Heinrich for his recent vote to move legislation forward that would guarantee full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congress made LWCF permanent earlier this year, which was a big win for our public lands, but it didn’t provide any guarantee of funding. It doesn’t take owning a business to understand that a fund with no funding doesn’t get you very far.

This legislation would ensure that Congress can no longer take money meant for our public lands and use it elsewhere. Money from the LWCF has been used for everything from public access to the Chama River to a city park in Las Cruces. As a fellow hunter, I know Sen. Heinrich really gets it when he talks about the importance of our public lands, and I’m proud that he is leading the charge to finally make guaranteed, full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund a reality. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is a strong supporter of LWCF as well, and I hope that he will use his position of leadership in the House to make sure that this bill gets a vote as soon as possible.

Austin Phippen is owner of Chama Trails Inn and Log River Ranch in Chama.

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(1) comment

Richard Reinders

Austin and his wife Karlee are an asset to the community of Chama, and bring fresh perspective.

Welcome to the discussion.

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