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Congressman, conservation groups urge budget boost for parks fund

Updated May 29, 2019 - 5:37 pm

Federal lawmakers rescued one of the most successful conservation programs in U.S. history earlier this year. Now they need to fund it.

That was the message Wednesday from Rep. Steven Horsford and a group of outdoor advocates who gathered at Kiel Ranch Historic Park in North Las Vegas to celebrate the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The program, established in 1965, uses fees from offshore oil and gas drilling to pay for parks and other outdoor recreation projects across the country.

Horsford called it “one of the most important conservation programs America has ever offered.”

So far, the fund has contributed $40 million to local parks across Nevada and another $60 million for public lands in the state.

“The very park we stand in today was restored using $121,000 from the LWCF, helping transform Kiel Ranch from a neglected and fenced-off space to a park that families throughout North Las Vegas and the entire area can enjoy,” Horsford said. “The LWCF has given countless Americans increased access to outdoor recreation, strengthening local economies and the quality of life in underserved communities.”

Congress permanently reauthorized the program in March as part of a bipartisan lands bill, but its funding for the coming year has not been finalized.

As Mauricia Baca, executive director of the local advocacy group Get Outdoors Nevada, put it: “They built a house without any furniture inside.”

Horsford said the House Appropriations Committee voted last week to pour $524 million into the fund, an increase of $85 million from last year and $491 million more than was requested in the Trump budget proposal. It will be up to the Senate and the White House to decide whether to accept that amount.

Barbara Hartzell of the nonprofit Nevada Conservation League said her group would like to see even more money set aside for the program. They also would like to see “permanent funding, instead of having to fight for reauthorization each year.”

Hartzell said Kiel Ranch is a perfect example of what the fund can do. Thanks to the program, North Las Vegas was able to preserve and enhance a place that has “particular significance for the indigenous community as a home and source of fresh water for first peoples who were here before it was colonized,” she said.

In the process, said the Rev. Leonard Jackson, the city turned “an eyesore” into a much-needed neighborhood attraction — one with the potential to grow even more.

“There’s hope for tomorrow,” said Jackson, director of the Faith Organizing Alliance, a church-based civic group. “So hold on, community. You haven’t seen nothing yet.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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