PHOENIX – Congress could vote its final approval this week on a package of public-lands bills that includes permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The popular federal program, which easily passed in the Senate last week, uses funds from drilling leases to support everything from national parks and wildlife preserves to local trails and parks. The fund has invested more than $228 million over five decades to protect Arizona’s outdoors.
Tracy Stone-Manning, the National Wildlife Federation’s vice president for public lands, said the fund has had a major impact on Americans’ access to the outdoors.
“For over 50 years, this fund has funded things as simple as a swimming pool and a basketball court in an inner city to protecting wildlife habitat for goats in Glacier National Park,” she said. “It just runs the gamut of projects.”
If the current bill is not approved, the program and its protections for parks and open spaces could disappear. In recent years, the fund has improved dozens of Arizona facilities, including Grand Canyon and Saguaro national parks and Lost Dutchman and Patagonia Lake state parks.
Many veterans put a high value on public lands, said Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain regional director for the Vet Voice Foundation, adding that outdoor recreation also can be good therapy.
“Military veterans use the outdoors to heal from our military trauma, from our experiences on the battlefield,” he said. “It helps with our post-traumatic stress disorder, and we use the outdoors to bond with our family and friends when we come home from long deployments.”
Reppenhagen said continued funding will make sure future generations can continue to enjoy the outdoors.
“The funds come from offshore oil and gas revenues, so it’s not a burden on the taxpayers,” he said. “This is something that helps American families and Americans use and appreciate our outdoors and get some time outside, even in our urban areas.”
Arizona’s outdoor-recreation industry generates more than $20 billion a year and supports 201,000 jobs that generate almost $6 billion in annual wages.