Conservation organizations, sportsman groups and others in the outdoor industry are lamenting Congress’ decision not to reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. We’re also sorry to see the plug pulled on a 50-year-old program that used federal royalties from off-shore drilling leases to finance conservation, access and land acquisition projects throughout the country.
The loss of this crucial financial support for public land acquisition and recreation facilities stings particularly hard in places such as Western Montana. The fund has benefited Montana to the tune of $540 million spent on access and public recreation since the program was authorized in 1965. Most Montanans know how important and precious access is to our public lands.
Montana’s congressional delegation would like to see the Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorized. Sen. Jon Tester pointed out how valuable public lands and recreational opportunities are for business recruitment in Montana. Both Tester and Sen. Steve Daines say they support permanent reauthorization of the fund, while freshman Rep. Ryan Zinke favors a temporary reauthorization, pointing out he believes there’s a lack of transparency in how the federal fund is operated. Zinke stressed, however, how much the fund has helped Montana and other Western states.
The Natural Resources Committee is expected to hold hearings next year to talk about possible reforms. Perhaps the half-century old program is in need of some reform. But this is a case of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. We hope the program will be reauthorized.