The Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, is getting lots of attention these days, and for good reason. For over a half-century, LWCF has delivered real benefits in Montana and across the country, providing funds to protect and gain public access to the parks, forests and outdoor recreation we all need.
LWCF has a proud history of bipartisanship that continues today, even as mudslinging in DC gets worse and worse. A bill recently passed by the Democratic House and the Republican Senate permanently reauthorizes LWCF and clears the way for continued federal funding for our Montana way of life. Doubling down on that big win, senators introduced the bipartisan LWCF Permanent Funding Act (S. 1081) to ensure those funds are fully spent for conservation every year into the future, rather than getting siphoned off for other government spending.
While this future-looking bill picks up steam – with 45 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and a House companion bill just approved by a key committee – there is a short-term annual budgeting fix in the works in this year’s appropriations process to address immediate project needs. Montana stands to gain a whole lot from these efforts, with critical projects on tap in the Lost Trail area, the Lolo National Forest, throughout the Blackfoot Valley, and in our state’s wildlife refuges.
In a divided Congress, all of this is possible only with cooperation on both sides of the aisle. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester both have been doing that work consistently and energetically on our behalf. But other stories have been put out there, and we want to share our perspective.
In the effort to secure permanent, full, dedicated funding, both Daines and Tester have been true national leaders. Both continue their forceful calls for full and dedicated LWCF funding, and both are leading the charge on S. 1081. The bill is similar to one Daines helped to guide last year through the Senate Energy Committee on which he sits; with his continued strong support, it is teed up again for action by that committee.
Meanwhile, both senators have been pushing to maximize LWCF appropriations this year. For decades, funding bills have included less than half of the $900 million LWCF deserves annually. The House, under new management, has recommended almost $525 million, which would represent the first big LWCF increase in many years. As members of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, both Tester and Daines are pushing against the odds for the Senate to go even further this year.
There’s nothing inconsistent about any of this – in fact, both our senators are pressing for the best possible LWCF appropriations in the short term, and for full permanent assured funding into the future. We need their continued strong support – and specifically, their ongoing efforts to get S. 1081 through the Senate and enacted into law. We are just glad our two senators both are taking their best shot at delivering on the promise of LWCF.
Dick Dolan is with the Trust For Public Land; Glenn Marx is with Montana Association of Land Trusts; and Mark Aagenes is with The Nature Conservancy.