Guest Column

Rosendale’s Bills are Unnecessary, Out-of-Touch and Disrespectful to Montanans 

These short-sighted bills ignore the interests of Montanans who depend on access to the outdoors for their quality of life

By Various Authors

U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale recently introduced four bills that are terribly out-of-step with the needs and wishes of the people of Montana. One can’t help but wonder if he understands his own legislation or if he’s thumbing his nose at his own constituents. Sadly, it would appear that both could be true.

Why else would he propose eliminating money for public lands and parks from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), neutering the Great American Outdoors Act just two years after it was celebrated as a bipartisan win for all Montanans? 

Rosendale’s bills prohibit the use of LWCF funds for land acquisition by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service and substantially reduce funding for land acquisition by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

LWCF was created in 1964, directing $900 million in federal revenue from offshore oil drilling into conservation programs each year. Over the years it’s funded public lands and parks across the country. Here in Montana, more than 75% of our river access sites were purchased and developed with LWCF funding, as were scores of parks, trails, campgrounds, swimming pools, soccer fields, and other places that sustain the quality of life we enjoy in Montana; one that supports communities, families, businesses and jobs in equal parts.

For nearly 50 years, the congressional appropriation process almost always diverted those funds into other uses. That stopped when the Great American Outdoors Act passed in 2020. U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines both co-sponsored the legislation, which passed the Senate on a vote of 73-25 and the House on a vote of 310-107. Gov. Greg Gianforte, who was a congressman at the time, also voted for the bill, which was subsequently signed into law by former President Donald J. Trump. This wildly bipartisan support is unmatched by any other issue and comes as no surprise for anyone who understands Montana. Polling in 2020 showed that 75% of Montanans supported the bill.

Even Rosendale seemed to recognize how important LWCF was to Montanans when he was running for Congress in 2020. Back then, he sung its praise by saying, “the Land and Water Conservation Fund provides critical access opportunities to recreationalists across our state, supporting our outdoor economy, and protects public lands for future generations.” Many Montanans are scratching their heads wondering if Rosendale truly meant those words or if he was just saying what he needed to say to get elected.

Now he’s saying Congress needs to pass his bills defunding LWCF to help balance the federal budget. But his bills would have no impact on the federal budget whatsoever, since LWCF is a “budget neutral” program funded by revenue generated by off-shore oil and gas leases.

As the Big Sky State continues to grow and change, what Rosendale said back when he was asking for our votes is more true than ever. Montana’s outdoor recreation economy largely depends on the public land and stream access that LWCF has provided.

Collectively, Rosendale’s bills would slash the roughly $392 million in funding slated for voluntary public land acquisition by the Park Service, Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service in 2024. Here in Montana, these bills would pull the rug out from under public land protection projects that have been years in the making, like the BLM’s ongoing effort to expand public access along the Blackfoot River and the Forest Service’s work to secure inholdings in the Lolo and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests.

The Great American Outdoors Act had broad bipartisan support because it benefits all Montanans: hunters, hikers, anglers, river runners, motorized users – anyone who uses our parks and public lands benefits from LWCF. These short-sighted bills ignore the interests of Montanans who depend on access to the outdoors for their quality of life. They ignore the economic values that the outdoors bring for emerging, innovative businesses and the jobs and communities they support. These bills will contribute to crowding at trailheads, hobble Montana’s recreation economy, and seriously jeopardize our future ability to conserve and enjoy fish, wildlife, and habitat. 

Dave Chadwick is an authority on federal public land legislation; Zach Angstead is the legislative director at Wild Montana; Marne Hayes is the director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors; Becky Edwards is the executive director of Mountain Mamas; Anthony Licata is the communications director of Montana Conservation Voters; Frank Szollosi is executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation.