Coconino Voices: Time to fully fund program to protect parks

August 4, 2020
Contributed Columns
For the Arizona Daily Sun

Coconino Voices: Time to fully fund program to protect parks

I remember the first time I brought my granddaughter Riley to the Grand Canyon. We drove up early in the morning, parked at Grand Canyon Village, and stood overlooking the South Rim together. She was too young to hike a trail then, but growing up in the suburbs of Chicago just like I had, she’d never seen anything like it. I’ll never forget the look on her face as we stood looking at millions of years of history together.

The Grand Canyon, and places like it, are protected and preserved under the Land and Water Conservation Fund — a federal program that supports the preservation of federally-managed public waterways and land.

For more than five decades, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has allowed communities throughout Arizona to safeguard our nation’s natural treasures, wildlife habitats, waterways, and the rich cultural heritage of many Native American tribes.

Since its creation, LWCF has invested more than $228 million in Arizona parks, forests, and countless other public lands, including Coconino National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona’s First Congressional District.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, LWCF investments support Arizona’s $21.2 billion outdoor recreation industry, as well as the 201,000 jobs, $5.7 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue that come from our public lands every year.

While the Land and Water Conservation Fund was permanently reauthorized in 2019, it remains critically underfunded to this day, leaving countless national parks, wildlife habitats, and trails in dangerous disrepair — a detriment to both our natural treasures and our tourism economy.

This summer, I cosponsored the Great American Outdoors Act — bipartisan House legislation to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address priority repair needs in our national parks and other land management agencies, as well as the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). These much-needed maintenance updates play a critical role in the health of our wildlife, the preservation of Native American cultural sites, the ability of local communities to invest in their parks, and critical funding improvements for crumbling BIE schools.

In a strong display of bipartisan, bicameral support, both chambers of Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, where it was then sent to the president and signed into federal law, effectively funding and protecting our public lands for generations to come.

In passing this important legislation, I know that one day Riley will be able to show her grandchildren the Grand Canyon as well.

Our work does not stop here. Since coming to Congress in 2017, I have fought to make sure our public lands are accessible to all Americans and have sounded the alarm about failing BIE schools in need of repairs. This year, I will continue working to protect the Grand Canyon from dangerous uranium mining, invest in critical forestry and water conservation programs, and improve wildfire fighting and prevention operations, so we are able to safeguard our natural treasures permanently.

Tom O'Halleran is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Arizona's 1st Congressional District. A Democrat, he lives in the Village of Oak Creek.