As Congress battles over a way to keep the federal government open, the future of a popular conservation fund hangs in the balance.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a pot of federal money used for parks and more, expires Sept. 30, and the latest draft of a budget resolution doesn’t include any language reauthorizing the fund, meaning new money won’t go into the fund after it expires.
Money from the fund has helped build numerous parks and trails around Bozeman.
Over the past year, groups like the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Business for Montana’s Outdoors and the Wilderness Society have pushed for making the fund permanent, which they hope will stop budget fights like this one from happening.
All three members of Montana’s Congressional delegation support permanent reauthorization of the fund, but accomplishing that goal has proved elusive as political fights in Washington ramp up.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted Thursday on a budget resolution that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. The measure went down on a narrow vote, with 52 voting against it, including Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, and 47 for it, including Republican Sen. Steve Daines.
In a statement, Tester called the vote “irresponsible” and “an attempt by some to score political points.”
Daines defended his vote, saying in a statement he was disappointed the measure failed.
“I strongly believe that Congress and the President must fund the federal government. I also believe that taxpayer dollars going to Planned Parenthood should be redirected to community health centers, which are more accessible, more efficient and cost effective,” the statement read.
A second budget resolution not including the Planned Parenthood language has been drafted and a vote is expected Monday.
If that measure is successful, the money set to go into LWCF before Oct. 1 would remain. But since the program expires Sept. 30 and no reauthorization language is included, no new money would go into the fund after that day.
In a statement, Tester said he was disappointed in that.
“This is a big blow to all of us who enjoy hiking, hunting and fishing on our public lands,” his statement read.
Daines said in his statement: “I am working to make sure we both fund and reauthorize LWCF at every opportunity.”
It wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the road for the fund. Bills to make the fund permanent are still out there.
The House is seen as a tougher place to get a permanent reauthorization measure to pass because of some members’ thoughts on public lands. Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, said in an email that some in that chamber have “different views about public lands” than Zinke.
Zinke expressed support for the fund in a statement, saying the fund “enhances Montana’s tradition of public land conservation, tourism and outdoor recreation.”
All three members of the Montana delegation signed letters that were sent to the leadership of their respective houses, urging the reauthorization of LWCF.
Jim Klug, of Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures, a guide company based in Bozeman, said he was happy the delegation was united in support of the fund and that he hopes they will find a way to keep it in existence.
He noted that Montana is one state that sees a lot of benefit from the fund and that not having it would be “seriously a problem.”