When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham created the Outdoor Recreation Division of the Economic Development Department, she did so knowing that outdoor recreation is a powerful economic engine that can grow wealth and create jobs in New Mexico. It’s why over a dozen other states have created similar departments.
I have been lucky enough to serve as the first director of this office and last fall embarked on a statewide listening tour to hear about the incredible recreation opportunities that communities are trying to grow.
Of course, the COVID-19 health emergency has put many of those plans on hold and has been devastating to our economy. But as Congress begins to debate a new economic stimulus plan, there is one proven program that can create jobs, help jump-start our economy and give a boost to our physical and mental health.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created over five decades ago with the goals of creating and maintaining everything from national and city parks to hiking and biking trails while encouraging Americans to get outside and connect with nature.
The fund has been a tremendous success, creating thousands of outdoor spaces that attract of millions of visitors. Over the years, New Mexico has received more than $316 million for the Valles Caldera National Park Preserve, El Malpais and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rock national monuments, all five of New Mexico’s National Forests, the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River area, Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park and Eagle Nest Lake State Park. Such areas help fuel a $1.2 billion outdoor recreation economy in New Mexico and support over 33,000 jobs.
But the fund could actually be doing much more. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is authorized to receive $900 million every year — derived entirely from offshore oil revenues. Not one penny comes from taxpayers. Unfortunately, only twice in its history has the Land and Water Conservation Fund received the full funding it deserves since Congress historically has diverted the funding away from conservation and recreation projects. Just before the recent pandemic hit, a bipartisan group in Congress was poised to change this by passing a bill that would permanently and fully fund this important conservation program.
Now Congress has the chance to deliver on the full potential of the fund as part of the next stimulus package. There are hundreds of shovel-ready projects just waiting for money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to put Americans back to work. These projects will create jobs by restoring improving national and local parks, increasing access to public lands, restoring wildlife areas and creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation.
If the global pandemic and the accompanying stay-at-home orders have shown us anything, it is that American families need outdoor recreation and want to enjoy our public lands, parks, hiking and biking trails. Permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund will help provide the jobs and economic boost we so desperately need while meeting the urgent need for more outdoor recreation opportunities.
This commonsense program is one of key steps needed to put New Mexico back on the path to recovery. And it could use your support. To add your voice to the chorus advocating that Congress fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, contact your local representatives and add your name to this letter.