Colorado’s White River National Forest was established in 1902. (U.S. Forest Service)
Environmental groups on Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of a landmark conservation law that’s providing millions of dollars in new federal funding for the acquisition and maintenance of public lands and recreation facilities in Colorado.
The Great American Outdoors Act, which was passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2020, allocated $9.5 billion to address a maintenance backlog in the national parks system and fully funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the first time since the program’s inception in 1965. The LWCF provides funds to help federal agencies and state and local governments acquire lands for conservation.
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“One year after being signed into law, the Great American Outdoors Act has been a sweeping victory for Colorado’s lands, wildlife and communities,” Rex Wilmouth, senior program director for Environment Colorado, said in a statement. “It has allowed us to protect endangered habitats and secure the public’s access to our state’s breathtaking natural treasures.”
Former Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, helped lead the effort to pass the GAOA in the Senate, and the bill became a centerpiece of his unsuccessful 2020 reelection bid. Gardner, however, refused to comment when a last-minute action by the Trump administration sought to impose significant new restrictions on the way LWCF funds could be used. The Biden administration later reversed the decision.
Among the Colorado projects funded by the LWCF in the last year are the $8.5 million acquisition of the Sweetwater Lake area in the White River National Forest; a 1,100-acre addition to the San Luis Valley Conservation Area; and a 280-acre addition to Dinosaur National Monument along the Colorado-Utah border.
“The vital funds provided by the LWCF help connect people to the outdoors and protect the landscapes that make Colorado so spectacular,” Fletcher Jacobs, statewide trails program manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said in a statement. “As human populations increase, we have to proactively think about human impact on our natural resources and state lands. This legislation is a positive step to ensure human outdoor recreation is balanced with thoughtful conservation efforts.”
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