Building our public lands back better

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

While COVID-19 precautions have moved this year’s Crane Fiesta into a virtual format, the Friends of Bosque del Apache will have an incredible lineup of events from November 18 to 19, bringing together experts on wildlife photography, birding, and landscape painting for webinars and other exciting events. There will be photography and art contests. And, best of all, the Fiesta will allow people from all around the world to watch the morning fly-outs and sunset fly-ins.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor recreation activities—from hunting and fishing to wildlife photography and bird watching—were fueling some of New Mexico’s fastest economic growth. More new visitors have sought the space to breathe in outdoor places over this past year and a half. If we can invest smartly, we can build our outdoor recreation industry back better than ever before.

Last year, I was proud to lead the bipartisan effort to pass the historic Great American Outdoors Act, which permanently and fully funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has played a key role in protecting landscapes in our state from the Gila National Forest to the Valles Caldera and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. That new law also invests nearly $2 billion in each of the next five years to help tackle long-term infrastructure and maintenance issues on our public lands.

This year alone, the newly established National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund will deliver $60 million to New Mexico’s national parks, monuments, forests, and wildlife refuges. That includes more than $15 million for the Bosque del Apache to make repairs to its roads and trails and finally take on long-needed major renovations to its main office and visitor center. In addition, our state’s national forests—including the Gila—are receiving $12 million to replace roads and bridges, restore trail networks and rebuild campgrounds.

Each of these major infrastructure projects will support quality jobs at a time when many New Mexicans are getting back to work. The jobs fueled by the investments in the Great American Outdoors Act will translate into employment opportunities on our public lands on a scale not seen since the New Deal era’s Civilian Conservation Corps—or CCC—nearly a century ago.

I am working to double down on those forward-looking investments in this Congress by standing up a new Civilian Climate Corps as part of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and passing the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, bipartisan legislation that I am leading alongside Republican Senator Roy Blunt to scale up support and provide reliable funding for locally-driven conservation work that improves the long-term health and resilience of fish and wildlife habitat in places like the Middle Rio Grande.

With a new CCC for this generation, we can create thousands of new positions in our natural resource management and conservation workforce. Members of the new Civilian Climate Corps will assist both our public lands agencies and private landowners as we make our landscapes more resilient to extreme weather events. They will be on the frontlines of scaling up natural climate solutions such as improving soil health on working agricultural lands, conserving our forests that capture and store carbon, and restoring the health of habitat like the wetlands of the Rio Grande that protect our communities from floods and erosion.

All of this new work on our public lands will help us attract and support more visitors who will shop in our local stores, fill up at our gas stations, hire local outfitter guides, spend the night in our hotels, and eat at our local restaurants, and maybe even be inspired to stay and retire or raise their families right here in New Mexico.

These long-term benefits will outlive us all. You can still see the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps members who built up our public lands infrastructure back in the 1930s. Fifty or even 100 years from now, families and children enjoying a day out in one of New Mexico’s public lands probably won’t know how the trailhead, parking lot, campground, or visitor center that allowed them to visit a stunning and accessible landscape was built.

We can all be proud that it will probably be a part of the lasting legacy that we’re investing in all across New Mexico that many future generations will be able to enjoy.