For those of us who depend on the outdoors to live, work and play, conservation programs like the five-decade-old Land and Water Conservation Fund are integral to the continued success of our public lands and our communities.

Recently, Congress passed a sweeping public lands package that included permanent reauthorization for this legacy fund; however, LWCF is not out of the woods yet. What the program needs next is robust, permanent funding.

Forrest Merrithew

The fund, which takes a portion of offshore drilling royalties and invests it in public lands, including recreation and conservation projects, has touched every state in America.

It has supported more than 41,000 state and local parks, conserved land for national parks, waterways, wildlife refuges, trails, and so much more.

The fund is authorized to receive up to $900 million each year, but each year, typically at least half of these funds end up appropriated elsewhere.

LWCF is critical not only to the sustainable protection of public lands, but also public land maintenance, management and natural development (trails, access, etc.), which in turn provides invaluable economic development to local communities.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Increasingly, local communities are investing in access to public lands not only for the quality of life public lands afford their residents and tourists, but to attract businesses looking to recruit and retain top talent. These lands are economic drivers with serious direct and indirect returns on investment.

I’ve built my practice around the outdoor recreation industry, and I, like many of us, experience firsthand the benefits LWCF brings to the state of Colorado and the country at large.

Our state is home to world-class public lands, many of which provide a diversity of jobs, infrastructure investment and revenues to local communities.

These lands, and the sustainable economic opportunities that come with them, would not be possible without the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Over its lifetime, LWCF has contributed more than $271 million to recreation and conservation projects in Colorado. The fund has contributed or made possible many high-profile recreation assets in Colorado’s 2nd district, including Rocky Mountain National Park, the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, and also local state assistance and investment like Lory State Park outside Fort Collins.  

Many communities desire and are looking for ways to develop trails and recreation infrastructure to see and realize the positive impacts that come with them.

All this is why I recently went to Washington, D.C., to meet with Rep. Joe Neguse and staff members for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to discuss the importance of fully funding LWCF in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget and going forward.

Rep. Neguse has been a strong supporter of LWCF. I’d also like to thank Rep. Neguse for his leadership on the CORE Act, which protects approximately 400,000 acres of iconic Colorado public lands for conservation and recreation.

As we move forward, it’s critical to realize the value and importance of the funding that allows LWCF to have the impact it has for our communities and the outdoor recreation economy.

The needs are great and advocating for full funding for next year’s budget, and going forward is key. I urge Rep. Neguse and the rest of the Colorado delegation to lead the charge for full funding for LWCF in 2020 and beyond.

Forrest Merithew is the starter and managing partner of Merithew Law. He is an avid outdoorsman with great interest in his clients and focused industries and has a background as a litigator and business attorney.

Forrest Merithew, of Fort Collins, is the founder and principal of Conatus Counsel, a fractional general counsel firm for passion and social impact businesses and brands.