Daines, Murkowski talk public lands in Bozeman

Many outdoorsmen are still celebrating after President Donald Trump signed the Public Lands Package into law.

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee Chairman, Lisa Murkowski and Senator Steve Daines discussed the recent legislation at the Wild Sheep Foundation in Bozeman Sunday.

The president signed the bipartisan John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act last week. It was previously called Senate Bill 47 or the Public Lands Package and had been in the works for years.

“There was a lot to celebrate here this month when we saw the president sign this public land package,” said Daines.

“Both the senate and the house send a very clear and direct message to the administration that we have placed a very high priority on this,” said Murkowski.

The biggest part of the legislation permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a key funding mechanism for protecting wildlife habitat and recreational access.

The LWCF was set up over 50 years ago. It takes money from offshore oil and gas royalties and uses it to conserve parks, wildlife refuges, forests, open spaces, trails and wildlife habitat. It expired in 2018.

Now the LWCF is permanently reauthorized and the new law requires 3 percent of LWCF funding to go toward opening access to “landlocked” public land that is surrounded by private ground.

Another part of the legislation keeps National Forests and other public lands open to hunting and fishing unless there is a specific reason for closing it, such as a safety zone around a campground.

A part that directly impacts Montana is blocking mining development around land north of Yellowstone National Park.

“Over 450 businesses are supporting this, the local community, the elected officials, to protect that very, very special area and as I remember some of us were there in Emigrant for a celebration we did and I think it was 5 below LWCF funded that fishing access site and by the way, about 70 percent of the fishing accesses in Montana are funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Daines.

Although the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been reauthorized, there are still questions about its funding.

“We’d all like to see full funding at some point — you know north of the $900 million number. We’d like to see permanent mandatory funding of it over the long hall so that’s kind of the next hill we want to go climb on LWCF.”

Both Senator Steve Daines and Senator Jon Tester are on the appropriations committee which will eventually decide how much money is allotted to the LWCF.

“I think we’re the only state that has both senators on the appropriations committee so we’re going to have a good bipartisan effort here put forth to make sure that we fund LWCF strongly and we got to $435 million this last year and that’s a good place to start,” said Daines.

“It’s going to be a tough budget year. We both know that. The numbers for the interior coming out of the administration are 11 percent reduction from the year prior. That’s going to be challenging for us,” said Murkowski.