Each year, 47 million Americans head outdoors to hunt or fish – and between licenses, gear, food, fuel and lodging, sportsmen’s expenditures top $200 billion. The fact is, hunting and fishing are not just hobbies, they are a fundamental piece of our economy and they’ve been part of the American culture since before our nation began. As a Latino whose family ties to the land go back generations, they are even more – they are a part of my heritage.  

As an avid hunter and outdoorsman, I’ve been supporting conservation efforts on local, state, and national levels for the past 20 years. From serving on the Valles Caldera Trust Board, appointed by President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBooker's potential 2020 bid is generating buzz among Democratic activists, says political reporter Obama: 'No ferns. No memes' in final plea urging people to sign up for ObamaCare O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold MORE, to serving on the Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors (HECHO) Board, I’ve been a part of a wide range of programs and advocated for diverse local and national policies. During that time, I’ve seen overwhelming success come from one policy in particular, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program created in 1965 to protect and preserve natural areas and our cultural heritage, and to provide access to recreation for all Americans.

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From a sportsman’s perspective, the LWCF has done exactly what it was intended to do: protect fish and wildlife habitat to help sustain our nation’s rich outdoor traditions. From a Latino’s perspective, it has protected my history and even sacred burial grounds where my ancestors lie.

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, even gathering materials for healing and art. Today, LWCF provides access to and proximity to park space and the outdoors for health, quality of life, and recreation opportunities.   

LWCF funding has conserved public lands that are critical to Latino communities.  In New Mexico alone, LWCF has preserved 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); and the recently established Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, that provides critical outdoor and educational opportunities to Latino communities in Bernalillo and Valencia Counties.  

At the end of the day, the LWCF is good for everyone – reaping benefits you can put a price tag on, as well as those that are invaluable. A recent analysis found that every $1 invested in LWCF land acquisition generated a $4 return on investment for communities. Plus, it creates ample, accessible outdoors spaces where our country’s greatest natural resource, our children, can explore, learn, exercise and thrive.  

This vital program, that supports everything from community parks to national monuments, is fully funded by offshore oil and gas royalties, but its set to expire on September 30. Last week, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips The Senate must reject Bernard McNamee’s nomination for FERC Overnight Defense: Congress pauses to mourn George H.W. Bush | Haspel to brief senators on Khashoggi killing | Soldier is fourth to die from Afghan IED blast MORE (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellCan the climate movement survive populism? Lessons from 'yellow vest' protests Manchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives Senate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips MORE (D-Wash.) announced an agreement on permanent reauthorization of LWCF to be included in the energy bill. On behalf of HECHO, I’d like to thank them for their support of permanent reauthorization of LWCF, and for their tenacious commitment to finding a bipartisan path forward for America’s most important conservation program.  

Salazar is a lifelong resident of New Mexico, an avid hunter and outdoorsman and a board member of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO).