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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jan 22 2016

What’s Next for LWCF?

Though in jeopardy, this popular conservation program brings out the best in our congressional delegation

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Conservation opportunities abound in Montana, where a whopping 77% of residents say that protecting and conserving natural areas for future generations is “very important.” No conservation opportunity has garnered as much attention and acclaim over the last year as the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). But unfortunately, even the most popular and effective programs find enemies in Congress these days, and for this reason the future of this program remains uncertain.

Funded by royalties from offshore energy development, LWCF has been used to acquire and protect public lands – from small city parks to large wildlife refuges – in all 50 states and in 98% of all counties. Since Congress created the program in 1964, the program has funded more than 41,000 state and local parks projects. The remarkable geographic distribution of projects has almost certainly contributed to its popularity. Last year, polling revealed that 75% of Americans support LWCF and want to see it fully funded.

If legislation existed offering every American a cold beer and a pat on the back, it could hardly be more popular than LWCF.

But these numbers mean little to out-of-touch ideologues like Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who detests the idea of the government managing more land even if the American people benefit from and own the land. Due to his efforts, the fund temporarily expired on October 1 last year – the first time this has happened since the fund was created. In mid-December, Congress reauthorized it for just three-years and provided it with only half of the annual funding ($450 million) it was intended to have.

Shortly after, Bishop said he’s “not done” with LWCF and vowed to continue his fight to “reform” the fund. Considering the popularity of LWCF and how well it has worked for half a century, Bishop’s fight is one that the American people would much rather he not have.

But, if it’s a fight he wants, then he’ll likely have to face Montana’s congressional delegation in the opposing corner, all three of whom hold a position on LWCF that aligns with the people who elected them. Sen. Tester, Sen. Daines, and Rep. Zinke all support permanent reauthorization of the fund with a maximum permissible budget of $900 million annually.

During his nine years in office, Sen. Tester’s support of LWCF has never waivered. In the latter months of 2015, Sen. Daines used his influence in the Senate majority and his position on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to press for the best possible outcome of LWCF. Rep. Zinke has also been a strident supporter for LWCF.

Because we cherish our outdoor way of life, Montanans deserve this type of bipartisan vigor from our elected officials when it comes to conservation and recreation. Over the next year, we hope to see our delegation remain arm-in-arm on LWCF and other conservation priorities. If that remains the case, then rest assured Montanans will have their backs.

- Gabriel Furshong, MWA deputy director