With bipartisan support, proponents are hopeful for revival of expired conservation fund
Both of Montana’s U.S. Senators and the state’s lone U.S. House Representative have joined in a unified front to advance a measure that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired Sept. 30.
U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Republican Steve Daines stood among 14 senators from both sides of the aisle this week, calling for Senate leaders to permanently reauthorize the LWCF by attaching mandatory funding to a must-pass bill facing Congress before the session clock winds down.
Tester and Daines both signed the letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid. The letter characterizes the LWCF as “America’s most successful conservation program.”
“For the economy, sportsmen, veterans, wildlife, and our kids and grandkids, we must permanently reauthorize LWCF,” Tester, Daines and another dozen senators said in the letter. “We also strongly suggest that you include mandatory full funding in any must-pass year-end legislation.”
Seven Republicans and seven Democrats signed the letter, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
The LWCF works by collecting 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.
Republicans who are critical of LWCF, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, did not pass a reauthorization bill through the Natural Resource Committees they chair.
They say the fund adds public lands at a time when the government can’t afford to maintain what’s already in place and want more of the money to go to local and state projects rather than federal ones.
U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, Montana’s lone congressman from Whitefish, testified before Bishop at this week’s House Natural Resource Committee hearing to reauthorize LWCF in its current form, earning accolades from conservation groups like the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
“More than half the fishing access sites in Montana were purchased with LWCF dollars,” Hannah Ryan, Montana chapter leader for the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said. “These places are critical for local families and visitors alike – and Montana’s $350 million fishing economy would be a shadow of itself without ready access. As members of the U.S. House of Representatives meet today to weigh the future of the LWCF, sportsmen offer our thanks to Representative Ryan Zinke, who, along with the rest of Montana’s congressional delegation, is committed to reauthorizing and fully funding this well-loved conservation tool.”