Since Congress allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire on Sept. 30, the nation’s public lands have lost nearly $150 million, according to the LWCF Coalition.
That’s millions of dollars that could have been used to build neighborhood parks and trails, maintain national parks, improve access to historic sites, conserve wildlife habitat and restore watersheds.
Montana has benefited enormously from the program, with more than $1.2 million awarded to 13 projects in Montana in 2018 alone. There have been more than 50 projects funded in Missoula County alone since the program’s inception, including, most recently, more than $500,000 for Travelers' Rest State Park.
Established by Congress in 1965, the federal program collects no money from taxpayers but is instead fully funded from fees generated by offshore oil and gas development. These fees add up to a staggering amount of money — about $2.5 million per day. Yet the LWCF is capped at $900 million a year, and throughout the program’s history, it has been allowed to collect the maximum amount only two times.
Despite its enormous success and lasting popularity, the program was reauthorized on a three-year temporary basis after the original 50-year authorization was allowed to sunset in 2015. Now, there's a very real possibility that this program will not be renewed, or will be renewed on only a partial basis, by the current Congress.
Fortunately, all three members of Montana’s congressional delegation have repeatedly and publicly proclaimed their support for fully funding and permanently reauthorizing the LWCF. They need Montanans’ support in elevating this urgent issue for their fellow members of Congress.
Missoula’s City Council pitched in last Wednesday with a resolution, adopted unanimously, urging Congress “to act swiftly to enact full funding for and permanent reauthorization” of the LWCF.
The resolution notes that “Montana has received more than 775 … LWCF grants to local governments and state parks, including at least 18 grants to the City of Missoula alone, totaling over $597 million and touching nearly all of the state's counties” and “has contributed to the enhancement of local parks and recreational opportunities that are part of the fabric of Missoula, including Caras, Playfair, Sacajawea, Skyview, and Kiwanis Parks, as well as the protection of iconic landscapes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Rocky Mountain Front and Glacier National Park.”
The following day, Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines attended a bipartisan press conference at the U.S. Capitol in which they joined with other Democrat and Republican senators and representatives in calling for the swift passage of current legislation to fully fund and permanently authorize the LWCF. The legislation was approved by committees in both the House and Senate in early October, giving hope that the full Senate will take up the bill before the end of the year.
This is one non-controversial matter that ought to be settled before the New Year. It’s not in need of amending, because it has been shown to work so well for so many years. And each day that passes without the fund in place means thousands of dollars lost that could have been used to shore up dozens of valuable public land projects.
It’s time to revive the Land and Water Conservation Fund — and ensure that it lives a long and healthy life.