The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

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 of 2015. 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 voicestweeting, talking, and taking our efforts straight to the U.S. capitol – we did it! Given the political climate, it was 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 many 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!

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 2018 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 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.

One example of how the LWCF protects our history is Dead Horse State Park in Arizona, which now protects an historic cemetery with gravestones dating back to the early 20th century.  According to Arizona State Parks “local residents, including miners, cowboys and Hispanic laborers are buried in the graveyard.” Imagine if the cemetery where your grandparents are buried suddenly shifted ownership and was at risk for either complete neglect of upkeep or being sold to private developers? LWCF is truly that personal. Rod Torrez, from HECHO, has ancestral resting grounds in that park. To him and many others, LWCF means protection of these sacred and historic places important to Latinos with familial ties to the land. 

Lisa Simms, a seventh-generation Latina Coloradan with roots in the San Luis Valley, wrote in the Denver Post that she values the LWCF not only for protecting the natural beauty of the areas where she and her ancestors grew up; but also for creating easy-access to nature for inner-city kids whose lives have been transformed by experiences in the wild.  HECHO Director Camilla Simon wrote in the Las Vegas Sun about areas in Nevada protected under LWCF, including some of the state’s most treasured places, such as Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  

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.

Let’s keep on working to make sure that LWCF is not only permanently reauthorized, but is fully funded, to protect our natural resources, as well as our country’s dynamic, multi-cultural past.