Congress finally made something happen with respect to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). After allowing America’s most effective tool for conserving habitat and public access to lapse earlier this year, they temporarily brought it back before heading home for the holiday break.
At first glance, a real victory for those who have fought tirelessly for the program, but with a closer look, still a short sighted solution that doesn’t appropriately serve the long-standing conservation program.
For the past 50 years, LWCF has served Montana supremely well, providing funding for community recreation opportunities, habitat protection, heritage site preservation, and public land access across the state, and the nation.
The program relies on offshore oil leases and not taxpayer funding, and has invested in everything from swimming pools and playgrounds to local parks. In Montana, LWCF is responsible for recently opening up public access to the famed Tenderfoot Creek in the Lewis and Clark National Forest and helped pay for most of the state’s fishing access sites, statewide.
The problem is that even after all the energy Montanans spent advocating for the program in 2015, we still received the short end of the stick. Congress only granted a short-term, three-year reauthorization and only one year of dedicated funding at $450 million. That falls short of the requests for long-term reauthorization with no sunset deadline and permanent, dedicated funding that would come much closer to $900 million.
Congress missed the mark and fell short on providing Montanans with the long-term certainty we asked for. The result was certainly not what our Montana delegation had in mind when they advocated unanimously for LWCF to be permanently reauthorized with certain and dedicated funding for the length of the program.
Outdoor businesses and other industries that flock to Montana for the outdoor amenities and quality of life depend on programs like LWCF to increase public access. We depend on the program to keep our public lands open and available for hunting and fishing. LWCF creates opportunities for our communities to build recreation sites, and gives funding to state parks and trail systems, getting our families outdoors and bringing Montana critical business for a healthy, diverse economy.
As Montana businesses and residents, we commend our delegation for being leaders in the fight for LWCF, and encourage them to keep working with us in 2016; that the victory is slight in the face of the progress that we still have yet to see for certainty in the future of LWCF.
We are well aware that this program remains a target for some members of Congress who do not understand our deeply rooted traditions linked to public land access and recreation. They will continue to look for ways to derail the things we hold dear.
We remain hopeful that Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines, and Rep. Ryan Zinke will continue their work, and will stay strong in bringing the message to Congress that Montanans want a full and permanent fix for this important program.
We can’t keep kicking this one down the road.
Ron Hooper, Neptune Aviation
Dan Vermillion, Sweetwater Travel
Business for Montana Outdoors