Bill would boost upkeep of federal lands

By:  Scott Turner

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — National parks, monuments, forests and wildlife refuges in New Mexico have a maintenance backlog of more than $121 million, according to U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.

And some of that backlog can be cleared if legislation that has the rare support of both the Democratic senator and President Donald Trump is passed by Congress within the next couple of weeks.

The Great Outdoors Act is expected to be voted on by the Senate as early as Thursday. A U.S. House companion bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

The act would permanently fund the Land Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year.

Udall said the bill would also “address the $19 billion backlog of deferred maintenance on federal lands by appropriating up to $1.9 billion per year for up to five years.”

It would also address maintenance issues at Bureau of Indian Education schools, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday.

“Across our nation, bridges, our trails, our campgrounds, our marinas, our drinking water systems (on federal lands) are wearing out,” Udall said during a teleconference Tuesday morning.

“You can’t enjoy many of these iconic places if the bathrooms don’t work, if the trails and the campgrounds aren’t open, and the roads are in disrepair,” Heinrich said.

That was a point a video released by the Department of Interior on Tuesday tried to hit home, showing deteriorating roads, bridges and other infrastructure that needs to be replaced at national parks. It also touted the president’s support for the bill.

Udall said Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands and Chaco Culture national parks, and Gila Cliff Dwellings and Bandelier national monuments are among the parks in New Mexico with maintenance backlogs.

Udall said it was hard to single out specific maintenance issues that needed to be worked on in the state.

But he said Carlsbad Caverns “has had real maintenance problems on and off over the past couple of years.”

Both of New Mexico’s senators said the legislation would help the state’s $6 billion tourism industry recover from the effects of the pandemic.

And that includes the establishment of permanent funding for the LWCF.

“Locally, the LWCF has supported over 1,200 parks, trails and soccer fields, and other outdoor opportunities across the New Mexico, touching every county in our state,” Udall said.

Both he and Heinrich credit the LWCF with the establishment of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Bernalillo County’s South Valley and the opening of access to other public lands around the state.