Montana senators deserve credit for their leadership

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Autumn colors along the Flathead River. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake FILE)

You have most likely heard plenty in the recent months about the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the political football being played back in Washington, D.C. to secure permanent, full, dedicated funding for the program. While we aren’t all the way there yet, we are closer than we have been in decades. Montana can be proud that both Senator Steve Daines and Senator Jon Tester have been bipartisan champions for reauthorization and funding of this critical program. To say otherwise just isn’t accurate or authentic.

Earlier this year, Congress permanently reauthorized LWCF, a critical first step to assuring that the success of this program benefits future generations. Both of Montana’s Senators were important in getting that done. Now Congress is back from recess and is debating the annual level of funding that LWCF will receive, even though revenues from offshore oil and gas development –not taxpayer dollars – fund the program and monies have already been deposited in the fund that can’t be used for anything else. It’s like the bank dictating how much money you can spend out of your checking account! The only way to prevent this backward process is to pass the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (S. 1081), a bipartisan bill supported by Senators Tester and Daines that would permanently fund the program without the need for unnecessary appropriations battles every year.

Additionally, both Senator Daines and Tester also sit on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. That subcommittee recently discussed a bill to fund LWCF for Fiscal Year 2020, which was unfortunately well below the levels that have been promised. Rather than fully funding the program at $900 million as Congress originally intended, the Senate is proposing only $465 million.

During the markup Senator Daines specifically questioned the adequacy of the funding approach and told the subcommittee, “I’ve got to tell you I’m disappointed to see barely half of full funding here today in what’s presented.” Both Daines and Tester put pressure on the chairwoman and ranking member of the subcommittee to come back to the table with a better option to move towards full, dedicated funding.

Since the program was created in 1965, Montana has received $600 million, helping fund everything from community parks to thousands of acres of public land acquisitions that protect and conserve our world-class trout and native fish populations. For example, the recent acquisition by the Forest Service along Tenderfoot Creek, a native trout stream and important tributary to the Smith River, provide a great example of how LWCF has been a win-win for Montana’s fisheries and public lands.

Moreover, LWCF has benefitted Montana anglers by securing valuable stream access throughout the state. Chances are that if you have been to one of the numerous fishing access sites around the state, LWCF helped make your experience possible. With full, dedicated funding for the program we could do even more, getting us closer to the statewide goal of having a fishing access site every twelve miles of floatable water in Montana. That would be good for Montana’s coldwater fisheries, anglers, and the outdoor economy that they support.

Without the leadership of Senator Daines and Tester, we wouldn’t be this close to achieving full, dedicated funding for LWCF. While we are disappointed that dysfunction in Congress is getting in the way of doing the right thing for Montana’s fish, wildlife and outdoor heritage, Montanans support and appreciate the continued leadership of our Senators to prioritize full, dedicated funding for LWCF.

Learn more about Montana Trout Unlimited and our work to protect Montana’s coldwater fisheries and stream access at www.montanatu.org.

Clayton Elliott is the Conservation and Government Relations Director of Montana Trout Unlimited and based in Missoula.

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