Travelers Rest State Park

Traveler's Rest State Park was the most recent Missoula County project to receive a boost from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It received more than $500,000 in 2017. 

The popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) plays an essential role in protecting our access to public lands and bettering outdoor recreation for all Montanans. Last year, Congress reauthorized LWCF. This was an important win for public land supporters. But, that reauthorization did not include what LWCF needs most — funding.

The full level of funding, $900 million, will go to support public lands and outdoor recreation all across the country. LWCF is funded by offshore oil and gas royalties, meaning not a single cent from our taxpayer dollars is used.

Although this is a national issue, LWCF is tremendously impactful in Montana. In a state where public access and outdoor recreation are both a way of life and a vital sector of the economy, the millions of dollars LWCF has provided for Montana’s public lands over the decades have been invaluable. Since its inception in 1965, LWCF has allocated nearly $600 million in support of our public lands in Montana alone. This investment is a big part of keeping our state’s outdoor recreation economy thriving.

We know that Montana’s outdoor recreation is a draw for both visitors and locals alike. What would Montana be without rafting, fishing, or hiking, just to name a few? The beauty of our nature and the joy it gives is an immeasurable gift, one that we cannot take for granted.

Now that the fight to secure the future of funding for LWCF is on, you would expect Montana’s elected officials to be doing everything in their power to get it done. This would include our U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who is a member of the majority party and the Senate Appropriations Committee. However, Daines has not only made a lot of empty promises; he has not taken action.

Despite previously pledging he would secure full funding for LWCF, Daines recently revealed in a letter to his fellow senators on the Appropriations Committee that he would be willing to settle for only two-thirds of the amount necessary to fully fund the LWCF. That is not good enough. Although Daines may have recently returned to talking about the need for full funding for LWCF, we need more than lip service, we need action. Again, LWCF is not funded by our taxpayer dollars. Any diversion of the royalties to fund LWCF is a loss for Montana and outdoor recreation across our country.

If we lose LWCF funding, everything from fishing access sites, wildlife habitats, trails, to city parks would be impacted. In order for LWCF to continue expanding public access as it was established to do, it is critical that it be fully funded. There is no reason this critical conservation tool should not be fully funded. Senator Daines should be on the front lines of, if not leading, the fight to get it done.

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Paul Vestal, of Billings, is an attorney and a member of the board of directors of Montana Conservation Voters.

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