The Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) -- perhaps the most important piece of federal legislation that has been protecting our nation’s land and water for the last 50 years – was reauthorized in December. After months and months of pushing – writing letters to congress, submitting op-ed after op-ed after op-ed, speaking to elected officials, engaging Latino voices, tweeting, talking, and taking our efforts straight to the U.S. capitol – we did it! Given the current political climate, this is an enormous victory.
After the program expired in September, things were looking pretty grim. But with the dogged determination of our community and many others, Congress had to listen. They included reauthorization of LWCF in their omnibus bill – a feat in and of itself, since there were tons of issues competing for inclusion. The program was reauthorized for 3 years at $450 million – that’s 50% more than the fund has gotten in the last few years!
This success is cause for great celebration, as it was crucial to protecting our heritage and culture. Latinos have a rich past woven into the fabric of our lands and they are LWCF “power users” with centuries-old traditions of getting “out there” and hunting, fishing, camping, and gathering materials for healing and art. Today, LWCF provides access and proximity to park space and the outdoors for health, quality of life, and recreation opportunities that have a positive impact on Latino communities.
LWCF funding has conserved public lands that are critical to Latino communities, from the Santa Fe National Forest and Watershed (a National Park Service Latino Heritage Site, significant for its history as the home to Hispano settlers and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains); to the recently established Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, that provides critical outdoor and educational opportunities to Latino communities in Bernalillo and Valencia Counties in New Mexico. In California, Latino communities in Los Angeles and San Diego celebrate their history of Mexican and Spanish settlers of the state at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Cabrillo Beach Development – also protected by the LWCF.
As we revel in our victory, we’re also conscious of the fact that our fight is not over yet. We were pushing for permanent reauthorization at $900 million, so we’re going to have go through the entire struggle again in 3 years when this current policy expires. Moving forward it will be the job of HECHO and the Latino Conservation Alliance to keep elected officials engaged on this issue so that it’s less of an uphill battle. And we don’t need to wait until it’s presented to Congress again. We can start today. Many people still don’t even know about the LWCF, so keep tweeting, talking, writing, and rallying so that when the time comes, our voices are louder than ever.
LWCF is a vital extension of our existing historic and cultural preservation systems – a part of our collective American heritage that’s one of the most important legacies to be handed down to our children and grandchildren. It’s not just land and it’s not just water, our public lands are the essence of our democracy – where all Americans have equal ownership and access regardless of cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds. Preserving these spaces is not only important to the Latino community, it represents a fundamental American value.
THANK YOU for all of your hard work helping us get LWCF reauthorized! Let’s keep on working to make sure that LWCF is not only reauthorized, but is fully funded, to protect our natural resources, as well as our country’s dynamic, multi-cultural past.