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Major Funding Source For Public Lands Faces Cuts Under Zinke Budget

Erik Neumann / KUER
Funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund has gone to Canyonlands National Park among many other sites in Utah and across the country.

A lot of people may not have heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or that it’s in jeopardy.

Each year this federal fund takes money from offshore oil and gas leases and allows states and the federal government to buy up land for conservation and parks.

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, Montana’s Tenderfoot Creek in the Lewis and Clark National Forest and Utah’s Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area — the Land and Water Conservation Fund helped pay for them all.

John Freemuth is a professor of public policy at Boise State University. He said the fund is good because it creates a way to protect these spaces without using tax dollars to do it.

"It's a green response to a brown activity. We all need the oil and gas, right? But here's something that compensates for that but gives us more open space without it using any of our tax dollars to do it," Freemuth said.

In 2018 the fund was allocated at $425 million, but Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke proposed cutting that to $8.1 million.

Instread, Secretary Zinke wants the budget to focus on maintenance backlogs on public lands before taking on new acquisitions.

This could all be moot, because if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the fund by September 30th, the five-decade-old act will expire.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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