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Heinrich Says Conservation Measures Will Grow NM Outdoor Recreation Economy, Improve Access To Public Lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. -  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, announced the passage of several conservation measures that he has championed to expand access to public lands and improve the health and resiliency of New Mexico’s land, water, wildlife, and the communities that depend on them. The measures were included in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus funding bill, which passed the House and Senate and has been signed into law.

One of the measures to be signed into law was a bipartisan bill Senator Heinrich introduced with U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to reauthorize the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA). Before it expired in 2011, FLTFA allowed the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service in the western United States to use the proceeds from sales of isolated or difficult to manage federal lands to protect lands of exceptional conservation value.

For more than a decade until it expired in 2011, FLTFA allowed the preservation of important sites across the western United States without the use of taxpayer money. The program also assisted in better land management practices by disposing of isolated or difficult to manage parcels identified by the public land management agencies themselves. The legislation is supported by number of sportsmen, recreation, conservation, and historic preservation groups, such as The Conservation Fund, The Trust for Public Land, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

“This program takes a balanced approach to conservation of public lands in the West, and as a result, it has a long history of bipartisan support,” said Senator Heinrich. “FLTFA is a commonsense program that achieves the dual goals of conservation and economic development. These funds have been used to protect iconic lands in New Mexico including in the Aztec Ruins National Monument, Santa Fe National Forest, and Elk Springs. FLTFA helps our state preserve the places that draw visitors from around the world and sustain outdoor traditions like hunting and fishing for generations to come.”

Senator Heinrich was also successful in fighting back against the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the country’s most successful conservation program, and secured a $25 million increase in funding over last year’s levels. The funding includes specific allocations for projects in New Mexico. Senator Heinrich has long advocated for the permanent reauthorization and full funding of LWCF. The program expires on September 30, 2018.

LWCF funds will purchase the only private inholding within the Valles Caldera National Preserve, thereby completing public ownership of the preserve under the management of the National Park Service. LWCF funds will also go to support the continued acquisition of parcels within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument to enhance public access to outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat protection – helping to boost the local economy in this spectacular part of New Mexico. And finally, LWCF funds will support the protection of a 450-acre inholding located along Sapillo Creek and the Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway, the gateway to Gila National Monument and the Gila Wilderness. This project will also ensure public access to the existing Spring Creek Trail, ensuring that the ability of the public to enjoy a host of outdoor recreation activities will continue into the future.

“Over the last half-century, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected some of our most treasured public lands in New Mexico,” said Senator Heinrich. “I'm pleased these funds will go towards expanding opportunities for outdoor traditions like hunting, camping, and fishing in New Mexico that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy. I will continue to fight for permanent and full LWCF funding to ensure that our outdoor heritage and public lands will be protected for future generations to enjoy.”

Senator Heinrich also welcomed the passage of a much-needed fix to the U.S. government’s antiquated funding process for wildfire suppression. 

“I’m proud we were able to achieve this major improvement to the way we fund wildfires. This plan pays for catastrophic fires in the same way we pay for other natural disasters, while protecting funds for stewardship contracts, watershed restoration projects, and other critical forest health programs. We no longer have to choose between fighting fires and preventing them -- we must do both, and this budget plan makes that possible,” said Senator Heinrich.

Senator Heinrich has long advocated to treat the largest fires -- roughly 1 percent of annual fires -- as natural disasters and fund firefighting efforts from a disaster account similar to the one that funds hurricane and other natural disaster relief efforts.