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We didn’t think we’d still be without a solution for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2019.

As the calendar flips to a fresh year, a clean slate and new opportunities to come encourage us. However, the end of 2018 arrived with hundreds of thousands of dedicated federal employees unexpectedly without a paycheck, and the 115th Congress left much business incomplete, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF has been expired for more than 100 days. If the program was funded at the full, $900 million amount, we are currently losing $2.5 million each day it remains expired. We’re losing opportunities for new playgrounds, habitat, etc. No playgrounds or habitat are going away.

It is apparent that Congress is broken. Partisan politics and sideshow rhetoric rule the day, and the hard work of legislating — and finding common ground — is all but forgotten. Yet here, in Montana, we haven’t forgotten how to cast aside our differences and lift up our commonalities.

LWCF is one of those programs that benefit all, no matter your partisan lean. The three members of the Montana congressional delegation are pushing Congress for permanent LWCF reauthorization, and U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines have already introduced legislation in the new Congress to get it accomplished.

The LWCF is incredibly important to Montana. The program has served as an integral tool in conserving open land and preserving family ranches. The LWCF helps generational farm and ranch families to continue to run cattle, provide critical wildlife habitat and create opportunities for their children to continue living and working the family ranch.

Thanks to the LWCF Forest Legacy Program, $73 million have been invested in Montana communities and rural economies from 2000-2017. This investment has helped support over 7,500 valuable jobs in the wood products industry

A major driver to Montana’s economy is outdoor recreation, with numbers reaching $7.1 billion in consumer spending and 71,000 direct jobs generated because of access to the outdoors. What’s the LWCF mean to Montana? Over 800 parks, trails, ball fields and playgrounds. Over 165 fishing access sites, which is roughly three-quarters of the sites in Montana — and so much more. It is arguable that no other program in our nation’s history has had as much of a positive impact for our outdoor heritage as has the LWCF.

Our entire Montana delegation must work together to influence their colleagues and respective party leadership to continue to elevate LWCF to the top of the legislative to-do list. Montanans cannot afford to wait any longer. We must save LWCF and we must do it now.

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This opinion is signed by Glenn Marx of the Montana Association of Land Trusts, Dick Dolan of the Trust for Public Lands, Mark Lambrecht of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Mark Aagenes of the The Nature Conservancy.

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