Opinion: BLM manager discusses President Trump’s conservation legacy
On March 3, President Trump boldly called for permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). In the land conservation world, never has there been a bigger declaration by a president.
And, when President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act, we witnessed the most significant action taken by any president since President Theodore Roosevelt to conserve, protect, and restore our public lands.
President Trump’s signing of this Act achieved what past presidents and legislators have sought for decades, but failed to carry across the finish line – permanent, dedicated funding for conservation and recreation projects across the nation, and billions of additional dollars to make much-needed repairs to critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, public lands, and at our Bureau of Indian Education schools.
Secretary David Bernhardt has charged the Department of the Interior to prepare our lists of projects that will help conserve, protect, and restore public lands and vital infrastructure across the West. At the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), we have been working diligently in preparation of the passing of the Act. We are ready to get to work to ensure Americans can enjoy these beautiful public lands for generations.
The Great American Outdoors Act will provide half of all receipts from energy development on federal lands and waters, up to $1.9 billion per year, for five years to address facility and infrastructure needs. At the same time, the legislation permanently funds the LWCF to the tune of $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the country.
Since its creation in 1964, the LWCF has provided a portion of royalties from offshore oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf to protect, acquire, and preserve vulnerable natural and cultural resources— for national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands, as well as local parks, trails, and recreation areas—in every State. It has been a tremendous success, but until President Trump acted, a large portion of that funding was diverted by Congress to other priorities and projects.
The BLM’s share of infrastructure funds will be $65 million a year for five years, of which 35 percent will be used to repair bridges and roads. The remaining 65 percent will be dedicated to repairing facilities, such as visitor centers, recreation sites like campgrounds, river and lake access, and trails.
The BLM will use the GAOA funds for the next five years to repair identified deferred maintenance projects totaling $1 billion. Across the BLM there are over 100 projects already identified to fund in the first year of the Act that will be used to repair road access for recreation, range, wild horse and burro, resource extraction, and fire suppression program activities. Funding will be used to target long overdue repair needs at administration sites, including fire facilities, visitor centers, recreation sites, dams, bridges, and warehouse buildings.
In New Mexico, [SRL1] the Act will provide $18.5 million over five years to improve the more than 13.5 million acres of public lands the BLM manages in New Mexico,
Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. In the coming fiscal year for example, we will provide critically needed deferred maintenance for our Farmington District Office fire facilities to improve our ability to support and mobilize fire crews to suppress wildfires across the region, while enabling our professional staff to better manage the 2 million acres of public lands and 7 million acres of mineral estate in the district.
As an example, funding will go towards improvements and maintenance at 15 additional recreation areas, nature areas, historic sites, and national monuments across New Mexico. These include reconstruction of the Taos Junction Bridge Campground, replacement of the water system at the Cox Visitor Center near Las Cruces; and improvements to the Socorro Nature Area Recreation Site.
For far too long, Washington has failed to conserve, protect, and restore our Nation’s public lands and address the deferred maintenance backlog. But, with President Trump’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act this week, he is ensuring that Americans will enjoy our great outdoors for generations to come.
William Perry Pendley is deputy director for policy and programs for the Bureau of Land Management.