Guest column:

Public lands are a valuable resource

Image

Yasmina Chavez

A walking trails is seen during the Mojave Spring Fling event at Spring Mountain Ranch, Saturday, April 2, 2017.

Last week, Nevadans had a unique opportunity: riding with Rep. Susie Lee on a mountain biking adventure through Red Rock Canyon.

Local Save Red Rock members were joined by advocates from the International Mountain Biking Association, the Regional Transportation Commission, Las Vegas Cyclery, Escape Adventures and the Southern Nevada Mountain Bike Association.

Save Red Rock organized the bike ride for two reasons. One, we wanted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of zipping through hills and canyons with a sitting member of Congress, someone who not only understands the importance of protecting public lands but also loves to use them for recreation.

Two, we wanted to call attention to the plight of a beloved conservation program that’s at risk of losing its funding in Congress.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is America’s most successful conservation program.

It protects wild spaces, our outdoor heritage, clean water and access to outdoor recreation in every county — every single one — in the United States. Since 1965, the LWCF has funded improvements to 41,000 recreation spaces and public parks throughout the country.

It is not funded by taxpayers, but rather by royalties from energy companies that engage in offshore drilling. It’s based on the simple concept that we should take the revenues from the depletion of one public resource — offshore oil and gas — and use them to pay for the conservation of another resource — public lands, water, parks and natural places.

Nevada has received nearly $60 million in LWCF funding to protect our public lands, including $3 million for the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Another $40 million in LWCF state assistance grants has helped Nevada purchase private land and make it public. The best example of this is Spring Mountain Ranch, which was acquired from its private owners in the 1970s thanks to $1.6 million from LWCF.

Spring Mountain Ranch is now a well-visited state park for families and a popular pit stop for cyclists and other outdoor recreationists.

Save Red Rock is interested in using LWCF funds to protect another piece of Red Rock Canyon, the Lower Cottonwood Springs. In partnership with the Nature Conservancy, we’ve found that this area would qualify for LWCF funding and would be a great restoration project. It would enhance the overall ecosystem of Red Rock, keeping it the kind of place families and mountain bikers love to visit.

LWCF was created as a promise to Americans to protect our land, water and wildlife. But its funding hangs in the balance of Congress’ budget negotiations. Until it is fully and permanently funded, Nevada agencies won’t be able to apply for the resources we need to fund conservation projects on the lands and trails we call home.

Thankfully, members of Nevada’s congressional delegation have been champions of this important program. All six members voted to permanently reauthorize the fund this year, and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, and Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steve Horsford, have signed on as co-sponsors of legislation to permanently fund the LWCF.

Congress could do with following Nevada’s example. Our leaders have a responsibility to fulfill the fund’s promise by providing it the assurance of permanent funding, to discontinue the practice of diverting its funding and instead restoring it fully. Their best chance is in this year’s congressional budget.

Save Red Rock was started by passionate people who love the outdoors and wanted to make their public lands better so everyone could enjoy them. We’re cyclists, mountain bikers, hikers, rock climbers, campers and people who just love public lands and the communities that we find within them.

Today, we’re calling on Congress to provide the LWCF full and permanent funding to continue investing in and protecting the places we love.

Sheila Billingsley is a member of the Save Red Rock board of directors.