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Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP
Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Latina rep. pushes bill to preserve outdoors, strengthen rural economies

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico is pushing the Great American Outdoors Act, which would help generate revenue for rural communities in her…

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Congress is expected to vote on the Great American Outdoors act this week, a bipartisan bill which U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, (D-NM) has been pushing to restore public lands and heal New Mexico’s economy.

In an unexpected move in March, President Donald Trump reversed his opposition to funding the Land and Water Conservation fund, asking Congress to deliver a bill that would restore the nation’s national parks. 

Just one month before, Trump proposed to slash nearly all funding for conservation and outdoor recreation, including eliminating funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in the U.S. Fiscal Year 2021 Budget.

The sudden reversal prompted Congress to draft the Great American Outdoors Act, containing two main parts. First, it would guarantee full and permanent funding to LWCF. Second, it would create a restoration fund providing millions over the next five years to address years of neglect and lack of funding to agencies such as the National Park Service.

With the official start of summer in two weeks and much of the world still heavily-impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have rediscovered the value of outdoor recreation. The problem is many of these parks are in disrepair.

That’s where politicians like Rep. Xochitl Torres Small come in. She is among 12 original cosponsors of the Great American Outdoors Act, which would address decades of this deferred maintenance at national parks. 

Torres Small represents New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, the largest non-at-large district in the United States.

She referred to the historic, bipartisan bill in a tweet on June 5, saying she was proud to introduce it to the US House of Representatives. 

“In New Mexico, our public lands are part of who we are,” she said.

Perhaps more importantly, the revenue generated through jobs and tourism would, “bring important economic development opportunities to rural New Mexico Towns,” said Teresa Martinez, executive director of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) coalition. The CDT spans the entire state of New Mexico, traveling all the way up to Canada. The LWCF would provide funds which would go directly to trails such as this.

“Well-maintained and protected trails and public lands are an important source of economic and physical and mental health benefits,” continued Martinez.

Torres Small says she is committed to addressing issues faced by rural communities in southern New Mexico, saying this includes infrastructure and job growth.

Outdoor recreation generates $1.2 billion to New Mexico’s economy and provides over 33,000 jobs, according to a report by Headwaters Economics. With a largely-Latino population of 47%, Latinos are expected to be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the bill should it pass the Senate.

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