One of the reasons we Montanans have access to such an amazing outdoor playground for fishing, hunting and camping is the smart federal policies that protect our special places. One of those policies is the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For a generation and a half, the LWCF has used offshore oil and gas royalties to protect fish habitat, national parks and wildlife refuges, as well as trails, city parks and baseball fields in all 50 states.

Missoula-area anglers don't have to travel far to see and experience the benefits of a dedicated funding stream to the LWCF. Three fishing access sites near Missoula - Petty Creek (Clark Fork), Johnsrud (Blackfoot) and Turah (upper Clark Fork) - exist today in part because of LWCF funding. The list of fishing accesses made possible with LWCF funding includes put-ins across the state opening miles of river access to all Montanans.

Soon Congress will debate and vote on a comprehensive energy policy for the country. This legislation is an historic opportunity for the United States to be a leader in clean energy, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and bolster our national security.

This legislation also provides an opportunity to ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund receives full and dedicated funding. LWCF-funded purchase of lands and conservation easements makes a difference in our lives. Protecting public lands helps our local economies flourish. In Montana, outdoor recreation garners $2.5 billion annually for the state and supports 34,000 jobs. Almost a million people hunt, fish or view wildlife in Montana each year, and they spend more than $1 billion on wildlife-related recreation - most of their time is spent on public lands.

LWCF also assists private landowners, public agencies and communities in protecting Montana's outdoor heritage. In the past LWCF has helped preserve the livelihood of working farms and ranches, ensure preservation of our wild places for fishing and hunting, and revitalize Montana's local parks and recreation areas.

Using the LWCF to protect our lakes, rivers and streams through watershed, forest, and wetland conservation is the smart way to ensure a clean and adequate water supply for communities while maintaining some of the best fish habitat in the world. The benefits are tangible and obvious and enjoyed by nearly all of us.

The Gulf oil spill serves as both a solemn reminder and an abrupt wakeup call that resource extraction must be paired with smart, forward-looking conservation. Fully funding the LWCF is one way to help pass along healthy fish and wildlife habitat to the next generation of hunters and anglers in this country.

The White House has pledged to fully fund LWCF and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is a long-time supporter of its benefits. Montana's two senators also understand the importance of LWCF and have both called for full and dedicated funding.

All Montanans, and especially sportsmen and anglers, are lucky to have an LWCF champion in Sen. Max Baucus. With his and Sen. Jon Tester's continued support, the LWCF will help protect our fish habitat, national parks and wildlife refuges for generations to come. Please let Baucus and Tester know that you appreciate their support of LWCF and the tangible benefits it brings to everyone in our state.

Mark Kuipers is an avid angler, hunter and outdoorsman, and is an independent marketing and advertising consultant in Missoula.


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