A July 10 article (“120 acres (and a legend) purchased for Glacier National Park”) told the colorful story of one of Glacier National Park’s first park ranger and his moonshiner wife. The Doody homestead is now part of Glacier National Park and will be forever preserved in the park.
As the article mentions, the property is protected because money was made available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF is an important tool for conservation. It does not use taxpayer dollars and instead is funded through royalties from offshore oil and gas leases. The LWCF was created in by Congress 1964 to protect our parks, forests and water, and to improve access to public lands for recreation, fishing and hunting. But the fund has been consistently raided and used for other purposes.
Recently Congress missed a golden opportunity to fix the raiding on the LWCF when it failed to pass legislation to protect the fund. Despite broad bipartisan support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, a provision to dedicate the LWCF spending for two years was dropped in the final version of a transportation spending package.
More than 255 senators and representatives from both parties, including Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both D-Mont, supported the LWCF funding provision. They understand the direct links between conserving our outdoor heritage and helping local communities that depend on tourism and outdoor recreation. They also know that protecting ranches and working forests maintains our traditional way of life while supporting long-term economic vitality.
They were part of a strong effort to ensure that LWCF funding stops being raided and is directed for the purpose for which it was created almost 50 years ago. Unfortunately, despite these best efforts, it did not make it in the final bill.
In addition to the recent protection of the Doody homestead, the LWCF has protected properties and enhanced permanent public access elsewhere in Montana. Along the Rocky Mountain Front and across the Blackfoot and Swan valleys, the LWCF is helping communities keep ranches operating, maintain private working forests, and conserve our favorite rivers, trails, and recreation areas.
While protecting our parks and forests, the LWCF also promotes economic growth by boosting tourism. For example, the Lolo and Flathead national forests combined are visited more than 2 million times each year, and generate around $91 million in local spending. Glacier National Park attracts over 2 million visits annually, contributing $112 million in recreation spending to Montana’s economy. The LWCF investments at places like the Doody homestead protect the integrity of our public lands while reaping direct benefits in economic vitality across our state.
For now, the LWCF will continue to depend on unpredictable and low funding through the annual appropriations process. Last year, the LWCF received about one-third of the authorized $900 million and far less than what is needed to meet demands to protect our public lands. This affects landowners who would pursue a conservation outcome for their property, but face a constant state of limbo as the LWCF funding gets taken away for other uses.
Montanans of all walks of life stand by our two senators to continue to fight for the LWCF and our outdoor heritage. They joined many of their fellow congressmen in fighting hard for the LWCF in the final transportation bill. Although these efforts ultimately did not succeed, I applaud their leadership and dedication to helping Montana families to defend our outdoor heritage and the community vitality it supports. I urge them to continue to keep up the good fight.
Deb Love is the Northern Rockies Director of the Trust for Public Land. Visit www.tpl.org.