elk rut
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Elk cows graze in the meadows of Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008, under the watchful eye of their bull. The Elk rut is in full swing in the park with some of the best areas to see the fall spectacular being the meadows of Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park and Upper Beaver Meadows. (Christian Murdock, The Gazette)

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Democrats and Republicans joined forces to reauthorize a long-standing program that will chip away at the $11.6 billion dollar National Park Service maintenance backlog.

The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, passed Thursday in the House Committee on Natural Resources, sets aside a maximum of $1.3 billion of revenue from energy production on federal lands for park maintenance needs.

Federal parks in Colorado had more than $238 million in deferred repairs at the end of 2017, the 14th largest price tag in the country. Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain national parks combined for about $154 million.

The bill was co-sponsored by 158 House members, including Colorado Reps. Jared Polis and Doug Lamborn.

“We are at our best when we unite to help improve the quality of life in the state of Colorado,” said Polis, the Democratic candidate for Colorado governor. “The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Acts makes a significant dent in deferred maintenance projects in Colorado, including critical projects in Rocky Mountain National Park.”

Lamborn said, “The American people deserve beautiful, well-kept national parks. I know that I’ve enjoyed the national parks our country offers from the West coast to the East. That’s one reason why I support this bill.”

The Colorado Springs Republican added that the bill will “incentivize harnessing our tremendous energy resources.”

The National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, is “encouraged” by the bipartisan bill.

“Addressing our parks’ longstanding maintenance needs is essential to enhancing visitor experiences,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “This bill is an important step in that process, and we look forward to working with Congress to see it passed into law this year.”

The House committee also passed a measure to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has protected thousands of acres of land across the country since it was established in 1964.

“This breakthrough recognizes the overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress for America’s most important conservation and recreation program,” Tom Cors, director of government relations for lands at The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement.

“It is a critical step forward for LWCF and the countless communities who rely on it to provide public access to the outdoors, bolster their economies, safeguard key historic sites, and conserve irreplaceable natural and recreation landscapes.”

To date, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has invested more than $268 million in Colorado for conservation and outdoor recreation projects since it began in 1964.

Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner are outspoken advocates of the fund.

The two co-wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post in July urging Congress to permanently authorize the program.

“Put simply, LWCF works. It is a time-tested and effective way to boost the economy and increase tourism in an industry responsible for $28 billion in consumer spending and 229,000 direct jobs in our state,” Gardner, a Republican, and Democrat Bennet wrote.

Twitter: @lizmforster

Phone: 636-0193

Liz Forster is a general assignment reporter with a focus on environment and public safety. She is a Colorado College graduate, avid hiker and skier, and sweet potato enthusiast. Liz joined The Gazette in June 2017.

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