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Interior secretary pledges $43M for conservation

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By EMILY SCHMALL
Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced Tuesday that more than $43 million will be distributed from a federal fund for recreation and conservation projects nationwide, kicking off a weeklong campaign around the nation to support the fund's permanent renewal as Congress resumes.

Jewell joined Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and other officials at Fort Worth's Gateway Park, partly built with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Texas is set to receive $2.5 million, Jewell said.

Offshore oil and gas royalties support the fund, which is scheduled to expire next year unless reauthorized by Congress. Less than half of the money paid into the U.S. Treasury each year from drilling activity on the outer continental shelf since 1964 has been allocated, Jewell said.

"We need to reauthorize this fund and fund it at its intended level without having to worry about year-to-year appropriation," Jewell said.

Price co-chairs the Mayors for Parks Coalition, backed by the Washington, D.C.-based City Parks Alliance, which represents dozens of mayors nationwide in lobbying Congress to release more federal funds for parks and open space.

Over 50 years, the fund has paid for more than 42,000 state and local parks, playgrounds, urban wildlife refuges, greenways, trails and open spaces. Federal funding is matched by state and local funding.

"As we're growing in density with people returning to urban centers, it's critical that we provide that element of outdoor living and the wild areas for people to realize where they come from," Price said.

President Barack Obama is urging permanent funding in his proposed budget. Federal officials say the fund has proven effective at creating and protecting urban parks and open spaces.

Jewell, the former CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., a Seattle-based outdoor sportswear company, has been criticized for supporting hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling process environmentalists say is toxic.

Cities across Texas are grappling with how to balance the economic benefits of fracking, including funding for parks and other public facilities, with risks to the environment.

The fund was created to strike "exactly that balance. It said, 'We're going to take from the earth, we want to give a little back and we're going to do that in the form of parks,'" Jewell said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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