HELENA — Time is running out for Congress to reauthorize a program that uses offshore drilling royalties to pay for land conservation and outdoor recreational projects across the nation, a Montana lawmaker and conservation groups said Monday.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, joined representatives from land and wildlife conservation organizations at a news conference in Helena to urge the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expires Sept. 30.
The fund, created in 1965, spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on land consolidation, conservation easements, urban parks and other projects. The program expired once before, in 2015, before Congress reauthorized it for three years.
“The permanence is important because you’ve got many individuals here who are working on longer-term projects and have the uncertainty of where we don’t know if Congress is going to fund it from one year to the next,” Daines said.
All three members of Montana’s congressional delegation are backing the permanent reauthorization of the fund, which paid for more than $240 million in projects in the state between 2005 and 2014.
Daines was flanked by representatives from land and wildlife conservation organizations at Helena’s Spring Meadow Lake, which was developed partly through funding from the federal program.
They stressed how important it is to them to pass the reauthorization by the end of September. Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, said the measure has broad, bipartisan support.
Funding the program “is an example of the kind of thing that can pull Americans together, which I think we need a little bit more of now,” Chadwick said.
Daines recently added his support to a bill that would give the program its full recommended annual funding of more than $900 million and prevent the fund’s money from being diverted to other programs
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, was an original co-sponsor of that bill by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington state.
Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana previously voted for the House version of the bill that would permanently reauthorize the program, but not necessarily the full funding.