Recently, I left Montana bound for Washington, D.C., to share the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to all Montanans with our elected officials. Just on the drive to the airport, I passed numerous trails, fishing access sites, city parks and soccer fields – all of which offer access to our public lands and waters that would not have been possible without LWCF.
While in D.C., I shared with the nation’s elected leaders just how important LWCF is to Montana. This fund – that is not reliant upon taxpayer dollars – provides funding for swimming pools, playgrounds, hunting grounds, conservation lands and ensures public access to public lands.
In addition to maintaining the quality of life we enjoy in Montana – and that quality of life has brought seventy percent of businesses to the Big Sky state – LWCF brings jobs to Montana. A recent study from the Outdoor Industry Association reported that 71,000 jobs were created in Montana resultant of our recreational economy, an economy that is maintained because of access to public lands and waters. Additionally, LWCF continues to fund forest restoration activities, keeping logs on trucks and mills open. Over 7,000 jobs in the wood products industry have been maintained because of funding from LWCF.
As we head into soccer season across Montana, it’s a good reminder that $38 million dollars have been funneled to Montana school districts, and to state, county and municipal parks. Countless ball fields across Montana wouldn’t be in existence without the funding of LWCF.
The problem is, LWCF is not permanent. Congress must renew this vital program by Sept. 30 or the program will expire. In addition to the program’s potential sunset, Congress has continually raided LWCF’s coffers for other projects and expenses, making funding from year to year uncertain. Only once since LWCF’s inception in 1964 has Congress fully funded LWCF to its $900 million capacity.
Recently, Congress passed and President Trump signed the spending omnibus, which included funding for LWCF for 2018 to the tune of $436 million. While that is great news for current projects seeking LWCF funding, permanent reauthorization was not included in the bill, leaving a looming deadline to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
While our Montana delegation all continue to express their support for LWCF and have voted for it in the past, the clock ticks to the program’s expiration. We hope Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte will make good on their words of backing LWCF and join Sen. Jon Tester in offering strong leadership to ensure this program continues to support Montana’s access to public lands and waters.
With wide spread tentacles positively affecting our economy, our quality of life, and our public lands and waters – permanent reauthorization and full funding should be a no brainer. When you factor in that LWCF is not a tax, but rather revenue from off shore oil and gas exploration earmarked to reinvest in conservation and recreation projects on the mainland, this should not be a heavy lift for Congress.
Daines, Gianforte, and Tester: It’s time to lead your colleagues – on behalf of Montanans – to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Dale Sexton of Livingston is the owner of Timber Trails.