With the deadline looming for one of Montana’s most instrumental federal funding tools, U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Gov. Steve Bullock say reauthorizing the measure is vital to maintaining the region’s public lands.
On Sept. 30, the half-century old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) will expire unless Congress votes to reauthorize a program that has provided $16 billion for conservation projects, including about $500 million in Montana, making the money available for matching grants to buy fish and wildlife habitat and increase access for recreation like hunting and fishing.
Both Tester and Daines have voiced strong support for permanently reauthorizing LWCF, but it must happen quickly once Congress returns to the hill after the Labor Day holiday.
Tester said he wants to see LWCF reauthorized at the $900 million level that Congress set in 1978, but that’s only happened twice since the cap was set.
“We’re running out of time. The clock is ticking and when it runs out in September all these projects are going to stop,” Tester said. “My goal is to make sure we get $900 million in spendable dollars for conservation in Montana.”
The Land and Water Conservation Fund collects royalties from federal off-shore oil leases and makes the money available for matching grants to buy fish and wildlife habitat and increase access for recreation like hunting and fishing. Since its inception, the fund has provided $16 billion for conservation projects, including about $500 million in Montana.
The Rails-to-Trails bike and pedestrian path that stretches from Somers to Kalispell to Kila was funded in part by LWCF funds, as was Kalispell’s Lawrence Park. It has also helped secure approximately 70 percent of the fishing access sites in Montana while securing land in the Swan Valley for hunting.
The delegation has recently ramped up its support for the bill, S. 338, which was introduced in February by Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina. It would permanently reauthorize the LWCF, which uses profits from offshore oil and gas developments to fund conservation and land acquisitions across the country.
Bullock recently sent a letter to Tester, Daines and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke urging them to support the reauthorization of LWCF.
“The LWCF has done so much good for our state,” Bullock wrote in the letter. “It’s hard to imagine what Montana would be like without it. From fishing access sites to parks and playgrounds, the LWCF has changed the everyday lives of Montanans for the better.”
Montana has received over $237 million from the LWCF since 2005, Bullock said, protecting Montana icons like the Flathead and Gallatin National Forests. As of 2012, 181,000 working forestlands have been conserved through LWCF funds, and approximately 165 fishing access sites have been created or improved.
Bullock also pointed to the large economic benefits to Montana from LWCF funds. Active outdoor recreation contributes more than $6 billion each year to the state’s economy and supports 34,000 jobs. It’s estimated that over 950,000 people hunt, fish, or watch wildlife in Montana each year, opportunities made possible in part by funding from the LWCF.