Last month, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines visited the City Club in Missoula to chat with constituents about issues important to Montanans. A priority issue to hunters and anglers across Montana is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
One of the nation’s most successful tools for increasing public access to our lands and waters, LWCF was permanently reauthorized earlier this year, with overwhelming bipartisan support (92-8 in the Senate and 363-62 in the House, with all three of our delegates voting in favor). But no funding was designated to the program. Currently, funding for LWCF is determined through the annual appropriations process, which provides no ability for certainty of funding amounts from one year to the next.
How does that affect hunters and anglers across Montana? Here are some tangible examples.
More than 75% of Montana’s fishing access sites were made possible thanks to LWCF funding. Just a few weeks ago, we saw LWCF in action as the Bureau of Land Management announced its plan to use these funds to acquire 13,000 acres of prime hunting and fishing lands along the lower Blackfoot River currently owned by the Nature Conservancy. While that is great to see, there are more than 3 million acres of public lands in Montana that are currently inaccessible. This is the biggest issue that LWCF can help resolve and why it’s critical that it receives full and dedicating funding.
U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines know that Montana sportsmen and -women rely on public access opened by LWCF not only to maintain our outdoor heritage but also to support our families financially. Many guides, outfitters, shop owners, hoteliers, convenience store and gas station owners are acutely aware of the economic value of access to our public lands and waters, not to mention the businesses that choose to stay in Big Sky Country or relocate here because of our world class outdoor opportunities. Truth be told, I started my own business in Montana so that I could stay here because of the gold-standard access, habitat and opportunities found on Montana’s public lands and waters.
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Tester has long supported full, dedicated funding for LWCF and has continually worked across the aisle to push to get it done. Daines has shown support for LWCF, and when asked during his visit at the City Club in Missoula, he said the current appropriations request of $600 million for LWCF was similar to reaching a “high altitude base camp on Everest,” with full funding being the summit.
I’m glad to see Daines’ support for increasing funding, and we need to work together to attain that summit of $900 million, especially while 3 million acres of public land are out of reach for Montanans.
While Tester and Daines are making progress on full funding for LWCF, Montana’s lone congressman has remained silent. U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte deserves credit for his vote to permanently reauthorize LWCF, however, to-date he has not publicly supported fully funding LWCF. In fact, right now he has the opportunity to sign on as cosponsor to HR 3195, which would provide full, dedicated funding for LWCF. He should do this now.
It’s time for Congressman Gianforte to do right by Montanans who collectively value our public lands. And it’s time that Senator Daines make a run for the summit of fully funding LWCF, because we need every penny we can get to solve this access problem in Montana.