In 1964 Congress passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act with the purpose of “preserving, developing, and assuring accessibility” to numerous, high quality, conservation and recreation resources across America. It passed the Senate with a sweeping majority. The final vote count: 92-1.
In those days, before bottomless election bank accounts, delegation members hosted barbecues and spent weekends traveling with their counterparts on the opposite side of the political aisle. Overwhelming vote margins such as 92-1 were more commonplace. It was easier to work together and find agreement in the middle.
In the early weeks of the 116th Congress – amid cavernous partisan divides – the Senate looked a little more like those bipartisan days of yore. Just a few weeks ago, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (S. 47) passed the Senate by a margin of 92-8. The bill passed the House by an equally impressive bipartisan margin of 363 – 62.
Recently, President Donald Trump signed permanent reauthorization for LWCF into law.
Why is that large vote count important? Because it proves two simple facts, which may very well ensure a positive, healthy future for our country. It proves that our Congress can still roll up their sleeves and work together. For the betterment of all.
It also proves that public lands really can unite a divided nation.
Our Montana delegation has earned our earnest, heartfelt thanks for this victory. Sen. Jon Tester has championed the Land and Water Conservation Fund since he was first elected in 2006. Sen. Steve Daines joined Tester in his support of permanent reauthorization and full funding for LWCF. They have both spent the better part of the past two years advocating amongst their colleagues and Senate leadership to prioritize this program, so vital to Montana’s economy and way of life. Congressman Greg Gianforte also supported permanent reauthorization for LWCF in word and vote. The combined influence of our three delegation members in the Senate and House ensured a certain, lasting future for LWCF.
Tester, Daines and Gianforte have proven that our elected officials can put differences aside, eschew partisan politics, and do what is best for their constituents. Gentlemen: thank you.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund has gone from a wonky, largely unknown yet highly effective program to a common acronym thrown around in news articles and kitchen tables. Thanks to the Montana Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, nearly every Montanan now knows that LWCF benefits our economy, outdoor heritage and way of life daily, from swimming pools, ball fields, trails, parks, fishing access sites, wildlife habitat, generational ranches, and healthy forests.
Now, we never have to question the continued existence of LWCF again.
While there is still work to be done to secure full, dedicated funding for LWCF, our state and our nation must take a moment and celebrate this great time in the history of our wild, open lands and rivers and our access to them. To all Montanans who stood up, spoke out, and advocated for the Land and Water Conservation Fund: thank you.
Special interests benefit from a divided Congress, and a divided nation. Each and every Montanan – and American – benefits from where our commonalities lie. There is power and strength in working together, which was never more apparent than last month, when our president signed the largest conservation and recreation bill in many years into law.
We can still work together. Thank you to our delegation – and to our entire Congress – for showing us that.
Barb Cestero of Bozeman is a senior regional representative for The Wilderness Society; Mark Aagenes of Helena is government affairs director for The Nature Conservancy; and Dave Chadwick of Helena is executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation.