Past time to renew conservation fund

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We were disappointed to see Congress’ failure this week to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, essentially letting this popular piece of legislation fall victim to what some are calling “congressional gridlock.”

Despite broad bipartisan support for permanent renewal, the funding tool officially sunset Sept. 30, meaning royalties from offshore drilling are no longer going toward the purchase of public land and water acquisitions and easements.

Established in 1964, the fund has invested more than $579 million to protect Montana’s open spaces, historic sites, and to increase recreation access. The money has been used to help build public parks and fishing access sites, and to help conserve vast parcels of public forests across the state.

Locally, it has protected places such as Glacier National Park and Lone Pine State Park.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation notes that the LWCF has helped permanently protect more than 152,000 acres of wildlife habitat, while the Wilderness Society notes the funding “has supported millions of jobs” in the outdoors and tourism industries.

According to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of sportsmen groups, “Thousands of Americans who enjoy our public lands have reached out to Congress to express overwhelming support for a renewal of LWCF. Despite this, Congress still failed to act on what may be the most significant and bipartisan public lands conservation initiative in the country.”

The good news is that support to get the deal done remains sweeping and diverse.

Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester have both sponsored legislation to fully reauthorize LWCF, and Rep. Greg Gianforte has also said he supports the plan.

On Tuesday, Daines helped advance a bill from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that would bring permanent funding to the program. We’ll see how that jives with the House version, but we remain hopeful that Congress can come together — just this once at least — to revitalize a fund that is so important to many Montanans’ way of life.

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