A lot of well-deserved attention has been given recently to the fight to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the United States’ most successful program for protecting, maintaining and enhancing access to public lands, outdoor recreation and cultural heritage sites. Projects are locally driven by local governments, school districts, state agencies and tribal governments who identify their own priorities and then submit applications for LWCF grants to benefit their communities.
That is why hunters, anglers, outdoorsmen and -women, local and tribal government leaders from around Montana have been speaking up for this critical program. A major accomplishment was achieved when Congress permanently reauthorized the LWCF earlier this year. Unfortunately, LWCF has still not been given its full level of funding to go along with that authorization, meaning important outdoor recreation and cultural heritage projects will continue to go unfunded until Congress gets its act together and provides the money to complete them.
Established in 1965, LWCF has funded nearly $600 million in projects in Montana. Funding has not been a partisan or divisive issue, enjoying broad support in Congress. But in recent years, some members of Congress like Montana’s own Sen. Steve Daines have decided that lip service is enough when it comes to LWCF. He claims to support the program, while hardly lifting a finger, despite having the opportunity to back up his words with effective action.
As a member of both the Senate Appropriations and Natural Resources committees, Senator Daines is in a unique position to advocate for LWCF funding, but as another opportunity to do so is approaching, he is once again using this issue to try to look good rather than actually getting the job done — saying one thing and doing another, unarguably not enough.
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He’s not fooling savvy Montanans who expect better from our politicians, especially on consensus, “no-brainer” issues like this one. Consider that a recent poll of western voters found 83% support for reauthorizing and funding the LWCF.
The end of the congressional fiscal year is Sept. 30, and Daines has yet to make any meaningful push for full LWCF funding. After repeatedly claiming to support it, he seems content to settle for giving partial or no resources to a program that costs taxpayers nothing and supports Montana’s booming outdoor recreation and tourism economy, and our priceless outdoor way of life. The LWCF is funded by a tax on offshore oil and gas development and has supported projects in our beloved national parks and cash-strapped state and local parks alike.
LWCF has been around for decades, providing essential funding for hunting and fishing access, parks, open spaces, swimming pools and climbing walls, to name just a few. Failure to fully fund the LWCF will needlessly delay many more projects that support local economies and provide needed access to outdoor enthusiasts, including seniors and the mobility-impaired in Montana.
It’s past time for Daines to be a straight shooter with Montanans. Senator Daines cannot credibly say he truly supports Montana’s public lands and outdoor heritage unless he makes sure that full funding for LWCF is a priority before the end of this month.