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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Mar 26 2018

Big Win for Our Outdoor Way of Life

Spending bill signed into law last week frees up funds Forest Service needs to take care of our public lands

Featured, In the Media

Last week, Congress rejected the President’s disastrous budget proposal and passed a spending bill that boosts funding for land management agencies and key conservation programs, while fixing how we pay for fighting wildfires.  

Fortunately, this bill does not include many of the legislative attacks on public lands across the West, including three unpopular Montana bills that would eliminate protections on more than 800,000 acres of public lands, including the Terry Badlands, Big Snowy Mountains, and the Centennial Range.

Signed into law on Friday, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 will fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the sum of $425 million and enact provisions of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act that put an end to “fire borrowing,” whereby the Forest Service has to plunder its budget to pay for fighting wildfires. The bill would also add much-needed dollars to agency budgets, empowering the Bureau of Land Management to complete long-term management plans.

Senator Jon Tester voted for the spending bill, and we thank him for doing that.

Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte blindsided Montanans by voting against this bipartisan proposal.

There are a few measures that Congress has proposed or passed in the last few decades that all public land advocates can agree on. These measures make so much sense and provide so much benefit for our public lands that any Western politician – right or left – would be irresponsible to reject them. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) and the Land and Water Conservation Fund are two of these measures. They both enjoy strong support from both parties in the House and Senate.

That’s what makes Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte’s votes against this appropriations bill so incomprehensible. 

Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte blindsided Montanans by voting against this bipartisan proposal.

The bill offers a 10-year fix to end fire borrowing, a devastating practice whereby the Forest Service has to rob millions from its budget to foot the bill for fire season. 

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16% of its budget fighting wildfires. Last year was the second most expensive fire season on record, burning through over $2 billion dollars – more than half the agency budget.

Now we will begin treating wildfires like the natural disasters they are – giving land managers access to disaster funding while freeing up millions of agency dollars to accomplish restoration projects, keep our trailheads open, and keep campgrounds clean – to do the basic work the agency is mandated to do.

Congress was correct to pass this measure as part of this budget bill. They were also right to include funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is based on a simple, bi-partisan idea: invest a portion of the fees paid by energy companies that drill offshore back into public land access, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities. The 2018 spending bill increases funding for this program by $25 million from last year.  

That’s a good start, but there’s still work to do. 

Congress has fully funded LWCF just once since it was created in 1964. This popular program has delivered over $237 million to Montana to expand state parks, secure fishing access sites, and restore timberlands. Though $425 million far exceeds the President’s proposed budget of $64 million, it is still less than half of full funding. And unless LWCF is reauthorized, it will expire on September 30 regardless of whether it has funding or not. This is an important deadline that outdoor enthusiasts across Montana will be watching closely. 

We applaud Sen. Tester for steadfastly championing the key conservation measures in this bi-partisan bill. This public lands package is a big win for Big Sky country.

- John Todd, MWA conservation director