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U.S. House to Consider Bipartisan Public Lands Bill

Bureau of Land Management

The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill, by a vote of 92 to 8, that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. All eyes now are on members of the House, who could vote on the measure this week. The fund played a role in protecting lands in Colorado, including Great Sand Dunes National Park and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. 

Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain director of the Vet Voice Foundation, says since 1965 the fund has helped communities across the nation acquire nearly 7 million acres of parkland, water resources and open space.

"It's a program that I think every county in American uses, and it doesn't use taxpayer money," he states. "It uses leases from offshore oil and gas revenue to fund conservation projects, improvements on our national park systems, greening urban areas like bike paths and playgrounds and swimming pools."

In addition to hundreds of park projects across Colorado, the fund has helped protect places including Great Sand Dunes National Park and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.

Critics of the fund point to a shift away from state grants and an emphasis on federal land acquisition, which they see as lost opportunities for extraction industries.

Congress allowed the fund to expire last year.

Reppenhagen notes that most of the acquisitions are used to create access points to lands owned by all Americans. Reppenhagen, who served in Kosovo and Iraq, says camping, hiking and fishing on Colorado's public lands have helped him readjust to civilian life.

"Military veterans use the outdoors to heal from our military trauma, from our experiences on the battlefield," he relates. "It helps with our post-traumatic stress disorder. And we use the outdoors to bond with our family and friends when we come home from long deployments."

Reppenhagen says the fund also has helped boost local economies in Colorado and across the nation.

"People go into the great outdoors needing to stop for gas, or using hotels or buying fishing equipment or bicycle equipment," he states. "You know, there is a really growing outdoor economy in America, and it's a sustainable economy."

According to the U.S. Census, each year more than 2 million people hunt, fish or view wildlife in Colorado, activities that contribute $3 billion to the state's economy.