Las Vegas Sun

November 15, 2018

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Put politics aside and protect our outdoor spaces

When I moved to Las Vegas, I was surprised at the number of outdoor options available to the community. From Red Rock Canyon and Spring Mountain Ranch to Freedom Park and Floyd Lamb Park, we have desert, green space and places to picnic, connect with family or play sports.

But what most people don’t realize is that all of these places have been supported by a little-known government program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In fact, it has helped fund nearly 100 parks and projects in Clark County to the tune of $13.6 million. And all of this was done at no cost to the taxpayer.

The fund’s money comes from a small portion of offshore oil and gas drilling royalties. That amount is capped at $900 million, but Congress determines its annual allocation, which explains why the program has only been fully funded twice in its more than 54-year history. It received about $425 million this year. Even at full funding, LWCF accounts for a fraction of a percent of the overall annual budget.

But despite how much benefit it has brought to Nevada and the country — it is responsible for more than 42,000 parks and projects nationwide at the federal, state and local levels — Congress failed to reauthorize the fund before it expired at the end of September.

Created in 1964 with strong bipartisan support, the fund has become one of our nation’s most effective tools for conservation and providing communities with access to the outdoors. More than $47 million has been used in Nevada by local municipalities, schools, state parks and federal agencies for a variety of purposes, such as expanding parks, building new trails and sports fields, or renovating facilities. Unlike many federal programs, the impact the fund as on communities is tangible.

These are places where we can be active, spend time with family, explore the wilderness or connect with our history. This is where communities come together to celebrate birthdays, learn how to ride a bike, or spend time on a playground. My congregation often visits Spring Mountain Ranch State Park for picnics or community get-togethers. For many diverse communities in both urban and rural places, LWCF sites are often the only means to access the outdoors.

Congress can still save the fund by moving legislation forward before the end of the year. It’s time for permanent reauthorization and dedicated full funding.

As the debate continues, we are seeing more and more elected officials set politics aside to support the fund. Our senators from Nevada should do the same. Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro, D-Nev., has signed on as co-sponsor of the Senate’s LWCF bill. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has the chance to put the interests of his constituents first and support a program that has touched so many lives throughout Nevada.

Congress created the fund as a bipartisan promise to safeguard natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage. It needs to again represent the majority — those who agree that the fund is essential to protecting the places we love and the way of life future generations deserve.

Juan Almanza is pastor of Centro de Adoración Familiar in Las Vegas.