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Sens. Udall and Heinrich work to restore funding for New Mexico public lands, national parks

New Mexico’s senators are hoping to restore funding to America’s public lands while addressing a maintenance backlog at national parks across the state.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) called on the administration of President Donald Trump to support full funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), established in 1964 to fund conservation efforts of public lands and provide recreation opportunities to Americans.

The fund does not use tax dollars but relies on revenue from offshore oil and gas leasing. It provides grants to state and local governments while providing funds to allow the federal government to acquire land and waters for conservation.

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In New Mexico, the LWCF provided more than $312 million for public lands conservation, per a news release from Udall’s office, in support of the State’s $9.9 billion outdoor industry.

Despite an earlier budget request advocating for a 97 percent reduction in the Fund, Trump tweeted on Tuesday that the Congress should send a bill to his desk to fully fund the program.

He thanked Republican Sens. Gory Garder of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, who pushed for increased funding.

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“I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks. When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands. ALL thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT Conservative Leaders!” Trump tweeted.

Donald J. Trump

I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks. When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands. ALL thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT Conservative Leaders!

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But Udall was not convinced the President was serious about restoring the fund, pointing to Trump’s 2020 budget request and suggesting the tweet could have been a “political ploy” as both parties are ramping for the 2020 General Election where Trump will seek reelection.

“I welcome the president’s apparent newfound support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund – and I hope that someone will show him his own budget request, which once again cuts LWCF by a shocking 97 percent,” Udall said.

“If the president truly supports our bipartisan action to fully fund the LWCF, he should quickly amend his own budget proposal, and I look forward to his support of our bipartisan bill for permanent, mandatory LWCF funding that has the strong support of Senate Democrats.”

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The 10th annual Conservation in the West poll conducted by Colorado College which surveyed residents of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming showed 70 percent of respondents supported full funding for the LWCF, and 79 percent agreed the lack of resources to maintain public lands was a “serious problem.”

“If the president is sincere in abandoning his administration’s previous attempts to gut the LWCF, I’d be eager to work across party lines with him to get this done for the American people and for future generations,” Udall said.

“But if today’s announcement is only a political ploy, voters across the West will see through any such charade and hold him accountable.”

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In a Wednesday hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee on Department of the Interior, Udall questions Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt about the President’s motives. Bernhardt said the President’s administration was “100 percent” behind full funding for the LWCF.

“The president made his comment and I’m pretty, 100 percent confident everybody’s getting in line,” Bernhardt said the during the hearing, per a transcript.

U.S Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) joined the bipartisan group of senators seeking for permanent funding of the LWCF at $900 million by introducing the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act.

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The Fund was permanently authorized in March, via the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, but Congress was must till approve its expenditures every year.

Heinrich said he hoped to move would also begin to address a $12 million maintenance backlog at the National Park Service.

“Our National Parks are uniquely American and offer endless opportunities to explore our nation's natural and historical treasures, and significantly boost local economies in their surrounding communities,” Heinrich said.

“I'm proud to help lead this bipartisan effort to address the parks maintenance backlog and invest in the infrastructure that improves access and visitor experience to all our public lands for generations to come.”

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Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation – the official non-profit partner of the National Park Service – also voiced his support of the Act and efforts to fund the LWCF and address the Park Service’s maintenance needs.

“I’d like to thank President Trump for expressing his support for national parks and finding a solution for the deferred maintenance backlog,” Shafroth said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the President, Secretary Bernhardt, and Congress to get a bill across the finish line.”

Western Americans off all political leanings should support funding for the LWCF, said Jennifer Rokala, executive director at the Center for Western Priorities.

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She said the Fund when authorized in 2019 garnered broad support in the region, and now Congress must ensure it is adequately funded.

“At a time when our parks and public lands face increasing threats from climate change and energy development, this is much needed good news. Congress should seize the opportunity to fully fund our nation’s most important parks program and conserve our national parks for future generations,” Rokala said.

“Westerners of all stripes have consistently supported this commonsense program that invests in our parks without using taxpayer funds. We’re glad the president finally appreciates this vital program—now it’s time to get it done.”