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Home Wild Word How Daines Voted this Week: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Oct 05 2018

How Daines Voted this Week: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

He finally came through on LWCF, but advanced a bad bill and played some ugly politics

Featured, In the Media

This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee took a series of important votes addressing public lands in Montana and and around the country.

Senator Steve Daines is a member of the committee. 

The Good

On Sunday, Congress allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to expire. Created in 1964, LWCF directs money generated from offshore oil-drilling royalties, not tax dollars, towards funding conservation, public access, and recreation priorities across the country. It is one of the nation’s most successful and popular government programs. Over a ten-year span, from 2004 to 2015, it resulted in nearly $240 million dollars of investment in Montana, money that was used to create and maintain trails, parks, fishing access sites, and a lot of other outdoor infrastructure that supports our quality of life and our $7 billion dollar recreation economy.

While Montanans were still reeling from the disappointment of LWCF expiring, the Senate fortunately took a major step towards reauthorizing it. S. 569, a bill that would permanently reauthorize and dedicate funding to the program, passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Daines supported S. 569 and defended both permanent reauthorization and full funding during the course of the hearing. Sen. Daines knew that Montanans were watching his vote closely, and he deserves our thanks for it.

Sen. Tester has long been a champion for permanently reauthorizing and fully funding LWCF, which now has bipartisan momentum it needs to move to the Senate for a floor vote. 

With more work ahead to provide LWCF with a stable future, we urge Montana’s entire Congressional delegation to move swiftly and influence other members of Congress to secure permanent reauthorization and full funding for one of Montana’s most successful conservation programs. 

The Bad

S. 2160, a bill deceptively named the Protect Collaboration for Healthier Forests Act, effectively exempts up to two forest management projects per year in Montana and northern Idaho from following existing environmental laws governing our national forests. Moreover, this bill puts the fate of our public lands in the hands of a hired arbitrator, allowing that person to pick winners and losers and leaving Montanans and other concerned citizens with no recourse to challenge projects that may be detrimental to our favorite hunting grounds and hiking trails.

This legislation raises more questions than it answers and takes away our ability to hold land managers accountable for not following bedrock environmental laws that are the foundation of our outdoor heritage.

Join us in urging Sen. Daines to abandon S. 2160 and enable more public input, not less, in national forest management decisions.

The Ugly

One bill was glaringly absent from the list of 47 bills that made the Senate Energy and Natural Resources agenda this week – Sen. Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA). 

The BCSA, a Montana-made bill that ensures public access and adds 80,000 acres of new wilderness to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountain Wilderness Areas, was crafted over a ten-year period by a diverse group of Montanans. This bipartisan bill has the support of counties, outfitters, snowmobilers, mountain bikers, and conservationists. But one person is missing from the legislation’s long list of endorsements. That’s Steve Daines.

Sen. Daines not only sits on the Senate committee that has jurisdiction over this bill, he’s also a member of the majority party that controls what bills are voted on and which ones are not.

So why can’t Sen. Daines support the BCSA, an extremely popular, made-in-Montana bill? Is it because it would designate 80,000 acres of new Wilderness?

Can’t be.  

After all, during the same committee meeting in which the BCSA was inexplicably left off the agenda, Sen. Daines voted in support of five bills in five other states (S. 414, S. 441, S. 483, and S. 2809) that would designate, in total, 1.3 million acres of new Wilderness. For reference, 1.3 million acres is an area larger than the state of Deleware, with room left over. 

According to the 2018 bipartisan University of Montana Public Lands Survey, 73 percent of Montanans support this bill, and that support cuts across party lines, with 68 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Independents, and 78 percent of Democrats expressing support. Because Sen. Daines won’t explain to Montanans why he won’t support the BCSA, we can only conclude that he is playing politics with our public lands and wild places and with this bill that truly represents collaboration at its best. Montanans deserve better.

- John Todd, MWA deputy director