WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) questioned an Interior Department official before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday about ways to strengthen the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which supports public access to federal lands and New Mexico's thriving outdoor recreation economy.
"We have 68,000 jobs tied to outdoor recreation in New Mexico, where hunting, fishing, and camping drive an enormous portion of our economy," said Sen. Heinrich. "The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been critical to securing natural treasures such as the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the new Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley, and the Miranda Canyon addition to the Carson National Forest."
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in New Mexico generates annually $6.1 billion in consumer spending, 68,000 direct New Mexico jobs, and $458 million in state and local tax revenue. Nearly half of all Americans participate in outdoor activities, spending $646 billion each year on outdoor recreation, generating nearly $80 billion in tax revenue, and provides 6.1 million jobs nationally.
Senator Heinrich is a cosponsor of S.338, a bill to reauthorize and fully dedicate funding for the LWCF. LWCF supports land and water conservation through fee-title acquisition or use of easements by federal or state governments. A portion of the fees paid to the federal government by companies who drill for offshore oil and natural gas are the primary contribution to the fund, with minor additions coming from the sale of surplus federal real estate and taxes on motorboat fuel.
While LWCF is authorized at $900 million a year, Congress can-and often does-divert some of the drilling fees for other uses. Currently, there is $18.77 billion in unused LWCF funds.