The Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped secure nearly 70% of the fishing access sites in Montana.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been one of our nation’s most successful conservation programs. The program puts aside a portion of federal revenue from offshore oil and gas leasing to fund land conservation. Over the last 50 years, the LWCF has played a crucial role in protecting habitat and opening up public access.
Since 1964, the LWCF has resulted in roughly $16 billion in spending nationwide, protecting everything from backcountry national forest lands to urban parks. Montana has received over $400 million in funding from LWCF. These funds have protected important lands in the Blackfoot Valley, on the Rocky Mountain Front, in the Greater Yellowstone region, and all over the state. LWCF funds have also been used to acquire key parcels that open up large areas of “land-locked” public land for hunting and fishing.
In the 2016 fiscal year, LWCF funding could go a long way in continuing the legacy of Montana conservation. Projects that would benefit from funding include improvements to the High Divide Landscape of the continental divide – ensuring crucial wildlife corridors are kept open, watersheds are healthy and full of native fish, and access is maintained. Montana refuges are also slated to receive funding, keeping some of our most important wildlife habitat areas healthy and accessible for hunters, anglers, and other recreationists. In all, over $30 million from LWCF could go towards improvements and investments in Montana.
However, the federal law that created the LWCF is slated to expire this year. If Congress does not take action, the program will cease to operate. The pressure is on for reauthorization. Senator Jon Tester and Senator Steve Daines have both cosponsored Senate Bill 338, which permanently authorizes the LWCF. Senator Daines has already successfully pushed through an amendment that increases the fund’s current levels by $14 million to $306 million annually – if it is reauthorized. Senator Tester has gone a step further and also cosponsored Senate Bill 890 which both permanently authorizes the fund, and permanently returns it to its original $900 million annual levels.
With the clock ticking, Montana’s hunters, anglers, and other recreationists are watching to see if Congress can get the job done on reauthorizing the LWCF. Our state’s unmatched recreational access – and our $6 billion outdoor economy – depend on it.