Trump reverses course on conservation fund

March 8, 2020 1:00 AM

After submitting a disappointing budget proposal last month that called for gutting the popular and bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund, President Trump appears ready to reverse course — and then some.

A new deal touted by Trump last week not only fully funds the conservation program — something that’s never been done before — but it tacks on another $1.3 billion a year for national parks maintenance. Trump said he would sign the bill if Congress brings it to his desk.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses federal royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling to pay for conservation and public recreation projects. Its impacts are seen all across Northwest Montana, from Wild Horse Island and Thompson Chain of Lakes, to ball fields in Polson and parks in Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Since its inception in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has contributed more than $600 million to projects that Montanans enjoy every day.

Trump’s proposed $900 million for the conservation program is nearly double the $485 million Congress approved for the program this year — and some 60 times more than what he proposed in his initial budget.

Last year, Trump signed into law permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the new bill requires full, mandatory funding.

Glacier National Park would also benefit from the new deal. Like parks across the nation, Glacier is facing a deep and growing backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects. Recent estimates put the price tag of the nationwide park backlog at $11 billion, including over $700 million in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. This bill would provide a good boost to chip away at the number.

In Montana, bipartisan support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund is widespread, and securing funding for the program has been a key focus for U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, as well as U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte. It was difficult to see the program used as a so-called political football over the past few years, considering its sweeping support from both sides of the aisle and the positive impact it’s had on communities across the nation.

Ultimately, Trump credited Daines for his change of heart, and Daines deserves credit for securing a seat at the table to get the deal done.

And while politics is full of hyperbole, it’s fair when Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander calls this legislation “the most significant conservation enacted by Congress in nearly half a century.”

That’s something all Montanans can cheer about.