Land and Water Conservation Fund set to expire

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The clock is ticking for the U.S. Congress to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, set to expire at the end of September.

Advocates for conservation of fish, wildlife and public lands are asking outdoor enthusiasts to contact their elected representatives to vote to renew and permanently reauthorize the fund on an annual basis.

According to information from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the fund was created in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. Using zero taxpayer dollars, the fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to help strengthen communities, preserve history and protect lands and waters.

In Montana, the fund has invested more than $579 million to protect Montana’s open spaces, historic sites, and to increase recreation access.

According to the Land and Water Conservation coalition, Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor recreation industry supports 71,000 jobs which generate $2.2 billion in wages and salaries and produces $286 million annually in state and local tax revenue. Locally, it has protected places such as Glacier National Park and Lone Pine State Park. It has also benefited national forests in Montana, including Bitteroot and Lolo, as well as the Nez Perce National Historical Park.

Congress allowing the fund to lapse in 2015, but a strong public reaction led to it being funded for three years.

According to Blake Henning, the chief conservation officer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, there is hope for the permanent reauthorization of the Fund after the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources approved a bill on Sept. 13.

“That has given us a ray of hope that it will get done,” Henning said. “I think Montana has benefited from the act more than any other state. It has been a big help in Fish, Wildlife and Parks being able to develop fishing access sites, we were able to do the 8,200-acre Tender Foot acquisition that was a checkerboard of private and public lands.”

As of early September 2018, LWCF funding provided more than $108 million in funding that assisted 80 different Elk Foundation land projects that permanently protected more than 152,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

“The Priority Recreational Access program is a key facet of the LWCF program,” Henning said. “It helps maintain and expand access to our public lands.”

Money for the fund comes from royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The royalties bring in $900 million annually, most of which, is diverted to other federal programs.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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