Commentary: When I first moved to southern New Mexico, a few things struck me almost immediately: those gorgeous mountains that provide the backdrop to the equally stunning Mesilla Valley, a strong connection between these mountains and our people, and a community immensely proud of the place they call home. It’s what inspired me to start Organ Mountain Outfitters. I wanted to share with the world what locals have known for a long time: our community, history, people, and landscapes are worth celebrating.
As I became increasingly involved in public lands advocacy, including participating in a trip to Washington, DC to educate elected officials on why our monument designation needed to remain intact, I also came to learn about the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). What especially struck me was the role LWCF had played in protecting the very places that inspired me to start my business.
The concept behind LWCF is simple: a portion of offshore oil and gas revenue is set aside to help conserve open spaces and fund our national parks, national monuments, and local parks. The funds can be used to acquire land for access or simply to protect it. They can be tapped by local governments to make oftentimes costly, but necessary upgrades to our community parks. It’s a program that’s benefitted nearly every county in the country and has impacted the lives of nearly anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors.
Having permanently re-authorized LWCF in early 2019, the challenge now facing Congress is to fully fund the program so that we can fully realize its potential. So what’s the holdup? The issue is certainly not lack of effectiveness. Neither is it a matter of partisanship—LWCF has strong support from both sides of the aisle. It’s simply the result of political gridlock on Capitol Hill. Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small has been a strong voice to push through that gridlock to fully fund LWCF.
But we can’t afford to waste any more time. State and local governments throughout the country are beginning to focus increasingly on the outdoor recreation economy as a means of boosting local prosperity. In 2019, New Mexico created an Office of Outdoor Recreation in order to allow our state to take advantage of our amazing and one-of-a-kind recreational assets. This effort makes sense. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the New Mexico outdoor economy results annually in 99,000 direct jobs, $9.9 billion in consumer spending, $2.8 billion in wages and salaries, and $623 million in local and state tax revenues. And each year, 65% of New Mexico residents engage in outdoor recreation, a finding that has important public health implications.
As a small business owner, I certainly see the value in developing a bold vision for an outdoor economy. It’s vital that our state look for ways to diversify our economy to lessen our dependence on oil and gas. And I know that here in southern New Mexico, we’re ready to show off all that we have to offer for outdoor recreational enthusiasts.
LWCF is a critical tool in these efforts. It’s through LWCF-supported projects that we can address infrastructure needs, ensure access to popular recreational sites, and protect these valuable natural resources for generations to come. Now we just our officials in Washington to value these goals as much as our community does.