Playing politics with public lands

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Senator Steve Daines is playing politics with our public lands.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a powerful and proven public policy that our lifestyles rely on and Montanans support. Simply put, LWCF the most innovative funding mechanism to ensure we can continue to enjoy our public lands.

Instead of using taxpayer dollars, LWCF is funded through royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling and invests those dollars back into public lands and recreation access, funding wildlife habitat, trails, city parks and countless other things that make Montana, well Montana.

Since it was established in 1965, LWCF has provided nearly $600 million, in Montana alone, for our public lands. From the very beginning, this smart public policy has enjoyed bipartisan support but in recent years that has changed.

Last year, Congressí permanent LWCF reauthorization was a refreshing win for public land lovers. But, the devil is in the details, the next step in the legislative process, is to fund the reauthorization. Putting our money - and values - where our mouth is.

And that hasnít happened. In fact, itís been years since LWCF was fully funded.

Now, Congress has a shot to get it right. They can provide the full funding, $900 million, to support public lands and increased access across the country. Anything less than full funding for LWCF is just not ok, and the future the public lands we enjoy depend on it.

One of Montanaís Senators is uniquely positioned to make this happen, but he has failed to do so.

As a member of the party in control of the Senateís agenda and of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Steve Daines could use his status to fight for full, dedicated funding of LWCF but so far - he has not.

In May, after repeatedly claiming to support full funding for LWCF, Senator Daines abruptly changed course and in a letter to his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee asked for funding of just two-thirds of whatís required. Senator Daines, canít have it both ways. When Senator Daines is in Montana he tells us he supports public lands, and when he gets back to D.C. he tells his colleagues two thirds is good enough. Itís not.

Senator Daines voted not once, but twice, to confirm David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior, even though Bernhardt proposed slashing funding for LWCF. Saying you support public lands just isnít good enough. Senator Daines needs to take action on LWCF and do the job we Montanans sent him to Washington to do.

Itís time for Senator Daines to put our money where his mouth is and ensure full LWCF funding. Anything less is a disservice to all of us.

Six generations ago, my family homesteaded in Montana finding much the same landscape we have today. Conservation doesnít happen by accident. Itís made possible by ensuring our values are reflected in good public policy. If our elected officials follow the will of Montanans, these public lands will still be here in the future, for all our families to enjoy.

Whitney Williams is a Montanan, businesswoman and vice-chair of the Board of Montana Conservation Voters

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