A behind-the-scenes conservation program matters more to Nevada than you know

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The Land and Water Conservation Fund has paid for many of Nevadans’ favorite parks and public lands

Environment Nevada

A newly released report suggests that high-rise casinos aren’t the only thing attracting visitors to the Battle Born State. The report, Protecting the Places We Love: How the Land and Water Conservation Fund Supports Outdoor Recreation in Nevada, a project of Environment Nevada Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group, examines just how many visitors Nevada’s public lands are getting, and how much they’re being supported by a landmark federal conservation program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

The report reveals massive numbers of visitors to outdoor areas of Nevada that have benefited from LWCF funding. More than 15 million people every year visit Nevada’s national parks, forests and conservation areas that have received grants from the LWCF, including places like Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, for example, which together saw a total of more than 10 million visitors in 2018. More than four million people every year enjoy the spectacular Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and millions more flock to Nevada’s state, local and regional parks. 

Since 1965, the LWCF has used revenues from offshore drilling royalties to fund conservation projects to protect natural lands and ensure public access to outdoor recreation across the United States. In Nevada, the program has contributed a total of more than $100 million to parks projects and land preservation. 

But the LWCF has also been chronically underfunded. The repeated failure of the U.S. Congress to properly fund the program has contributed to a backlog of unmet federal conservation needs now running into tens of billions of dollars. In 2018, Nevada’s national park units alone needed more than $160 million to address deferred maintenance, and its state parks millions more.

“Millions of people are taking advantage of the unique beauty and fun that Nevada parks, recreation areas and forests have to offer. It’s wonderful that so many are enjoying these places, but we can only enjoy them so long as the nation invests in them,” said Environment Nevada State Director Levi Kamolnick. 

“Some of our most treasured places are being loved to death, and without adequate funding for conservation, we can’t be surprised when frequent closures and protracted bouts of maintenance become the new normal,” said Kamolnick.

The need for action to win full funding of the LWCF was highlighted when draft 2020 Congressional budget numbers revealed that the LWCF would, once again, get just over half of the $900 million to which it is entitled. Conservation advocates saw hope, however, this last November, when members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation that, if implemented, would fully and permanently fund the LWCF. Proponents of the program are hoping for a House committee vote soon, and Nevadans are calling on their U.S. Representatives to do right by Nevada’s recreational treasures. 

“These visitor numbers are a reflection of the value that Nevada’s parks, forests and other natural lands hold for our communities,” said James Horrox, the report’s co-author. “Americans and international visitors and Nevadans themselves are literally voting with their feet for proper care for these places, and that will require full funding of the LWCF.”