Public lands in New Mexico to get needed maintenance with outdoors law

By:  Matt Dahlseid

New Mexico’s congressional delegation gathered virtually Thursday to celebrate the recent passage of landmark legislation that will provide $9.5 billion in funding over the next five years to address deferred maintenance projects on federal public lands.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich were joined by Democratic U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small to emphasize the significance of the Great American Outdoors Act for a state replete with wild landscapes and to recognize locals who helped advocate for its passage.

Signed into law Aug. 4 by President Donald Trump, the Great American Outdoors Act will channel federal revenue from the oil and gas industry to provide up to $1.9 billion annually for conservation projects and maintenance at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other federally managed lands.

The law, which passed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, also requires the full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Up to $900 million a year will be spent on environmental projects ranging from the preservation of wildlife habitat to trail building to water protections.

Heinrich said every corner of the state stands to benefit from the far-reaching law, which has been hailed as the most significant conservation legislation enacted in the past 50 years.

“When you think about LWCF, it really does run the gamut from your local park in your neighborhood, your kids’ soccer field, all the way to the Valles Caldera National Preserve that we purchased with the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” he said. “The great thing about the Great American Outdoors Act is not only did we finally accomplish what many thought was politically impossible by fully funding LWCF, but we also included an enormous infusion of infrastructure dollars for campgrounds and trails and all the things that we care about.”

Heinrich said the legislation initially focused on national parks until he worked with the bill’s sponsor, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and others to broaden its scope to include land administered by the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.

These public lands have all experienced a backlog in deferred maintenance over the years.

Across the nation, Udall said, there is $19 billion worth of deferred maintenance on public lands. In New Mexico, he said, there is $121 million worth of deferred maintenance at locations including White Sands National Park, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Bandelier National Monument and more.

In his final year in the Senate before retiring, Udall said he is particularly proud of continuing a legacy of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund saw its origins while his father, Stewart Udall, was secretary of the interior.

“He was there at the creation of the LWCF in the 1960s and I learned from him that big ideas usher in far-reaching change,” Udall said. “The dream was always for full funding. … Finally, we are fulfilling that big dream.”