A fully funded LWCF good for Montana

Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines are applauded for introducing legislation to make permanent full funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now Rep. Greg Gianforte needs to get on board. When the state’s delegation speaks with unanimity, it wields much more influence in the halls of Congress.

Democrat Tester and Republican Daines introduced a measure recently that would allocate $900 million – the maximum – every year for the LCWF. The fund is fed by royalties paid on offshore drilling and it helps pay for a variety of outdoor amenities – from city parks to fishing access sites and trailheads. As it stands, funding must be appropriated every year, and the amount has varied widely. 

The fund was established in 1965 and was set to expire in 2015. Congress reauthorized it, but only for three years, and it was set to expire again this year. Congress made the fund permanent earlier this year, but the bill that did so included no money. The extent to which the program is funded is critical to its future effectiveness.

A House version of the funding bill allocated almost $524 million for the LWCF. Though he has supported permanent authorization of the fund in the past, Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte voted against the most recent House bill to fund it, citing what he perceives to be congressional overspending.

LWCF has accomplished a great deal for Montana. In the decade ending in 2014, $240 million worth of Montana projects were funded, including the acquisition of public lands in the South Cottonwood drainage near Bozeman. It’s rare that a federal conservation program like this can be so successful – and without the use of taxpayer dollars. The list of LWCF-funded projects beneficial to the public throughout the nation is long.

It was a good idea when it was created in 1965, and it’s an even better idea now – with access to public lands threatened throughout the West.

Gianforte needs to join Tester and Daines and get behind the effort to fully fund the LWCF. His constituents will thank him.