Last week, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Absent from the co-sponsor list was our representative, Greg Gianforte. Both of our senators support a similar measure in the Senate. Now Representative Gianforte needs to get on board and here’s why.

Imagine one of your favorite parks: maybe it’s where you hike or fish or kayak. Or maybe it’s where you picnic or rock-climb. Chances are high that the park exists because of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For over 50 years, the program has been used to acquire or develop parks in every county in the country.

Here at home, it’s funded everything from the Riverfront Park in Billings to Caras Park in Missoula. It’s also been critical to hunters and anglers like me. The majority of river access sites in our state, from the Missouri to the Big Hole to the Blackfoot, were built with LWCF dollars. I have lost count of the number of incredible summer afternoons I have spent along the Blackfoot, using access sites all the way from Angelvine to Cedar Meadow. I have the LWCF program to thank for that.

Then there are huge swaths of wildlife habitat that have been added to our national forests because of LWCF — places we go hunting, camping and berry picking. Places like Tenderfoot Creek in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

These are the places that Montanans cherish. It is part of why our state is so great, and part of the reason why we attract visitors from all over the country to hunt, fish and hike each year.

Even better, this program isn’t funded with our tax dollars. Congress was wise enough 50 years ago to set aside a portion of royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling, mostly in the Gulf, to protect land and water important to Americans. The idea was simple: the country was selling off oil and gas owned by the public, so the public should directly benefit by setting aside parks and wildlife habitat. Congress authorized $900 million a year for the program. Problem is, Congress has only spent that much twice in over five decades. All the other years, it has spent far less and siphoned off money to the black hole called “the general treasury.” It’s not right.

The bill in the Congress now would fix that. It will stop Congress from raiding a fund that was designed to protect parks and wildlife habitat, to enhance access to natural spaces and to encourage Americans to enjoy the outdoors. Our population is growing, and our wildlife habitat and park system should grow with it.

Representative Gianforte voted to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund earlier this year. That’s a great start. Now we need him to support permanent funding for it, to ensure this terrific program continues for generations to come.

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Missoula resident Marcia Brownlee is the program manager for Artemis, a conservation group of women hunters and anglers.

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