Montana’s two U.S. Senators were among a group of lawmakers on Thursday morning calling for the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund by the end of the year.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Democrat Sen. Jon Tester joined several members of the U.S. House and Senate from Washington, D.C. praising the fund while saying it should be permanently reauthorized with full funding before the next Congress is seated in January.
Daines said the fund contributes to the quality of life in Montana that attracts businesses to the state while placing $7 billion from outdoor recreation into the state’s economy. He said Montana has 1.5 million acres of land that is unaccessible and the LWCF is the key to unlocking that property.
“We have important access to lands because of LWCF,” he said.
He called for the passage of a bill before Congress recesses for 2018 that he says would permanently reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF.
“This is an exciting piece of legislation for conservation,” he said.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund on Sept. 30 expired after Congress failed to reauthorize the program that directed a portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing to fund grants that went to local, state and federal projects that benefit conservation and outdoor recreation. The fund uses zero taxpayer dollars.
Tester said the fund is the “best conservation tool we have” and has increased public access for fishing, hunting, biking and hiking along with creating parks.
“We need to get this done,” he said of reauthorization. “This is money well-spent.”
Tester said it should be funded fully at $900 million annually. Under the LWCF Act Congress is authorized to fund it at that amount, but in the past usually appropriates only a portion of funds available.
“The landscapes that we have today won’t be around in 10 years unless we protect them,” he noted.
Montana has received about $597 million in the last five decades from the fund, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. It has provided funding for a number of local Flathead Valley projects as well protecting critical habitat and providing continued public access for outdoor recreation.
The LWCF played a key role in securing funding for the recently completed Whitefish Lake Watershed Project, a 13,400-acre conservation easement northwest of Whitefish Lake. The Haskill Basin conservation easement finalized in 2016 also relied on LWCF funding to ultimately preserve about 3,000 acres of forestland north of town including providing protection for the city of Whitefish’s source for drinking water. The fund also provided funding for the Trumbull Creek conservation easement for about 7,000 acres north of Columbia Falls.
Since its inception in 1964, $18.4 billion has been appropriated through the program to federal land acquisition, state grants and other purposes.
Amy Roberts, CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association, joined members of Congress on Thursday showing support for reauthorization. She said the outdoor industry creates 7.6 million jobs and contributes $870 billion to the economy.
“We see public lands as the infrastructure to propel the outdoor recreation economy,” she said. “This is a statement that the outdoor recreation is an economy worth investing in,” she said.
Lynn Scarlett, with the Nature Conservancy, said “nature is not just nice, it’s essential” noting that the fund has delivered 41,000 projects in every state making its permanent reauthorization crucial.
“The benefits are vast,” she said. “This is about America. This is about Americans.”