Work Together for Effective Public Land Management

montanascenic
Over the last few weeks, we have watched a gang of self-styled revolutionaries take over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. In addition to trespassing on public lands, these criminals have destroyed government property, ransacked government files, driven government vehicles and caused local schools to be closed.

The Malheur occupiers have attempted to justify their actions with a political agenda that includes turning the refuge and other public lands over to private ownership. Their anti-government rhetoric has been accompanied with bizarre demands for the delivery of vanilla coffee creamer, chewing tobacco and board games.

The national media have been unable to resist this combination of brazen lawlessness, political rhetoric and comedy. Some have been far too willing to believe the simple – but false – story that the Malheur gang represents widespread discontent with public land management.

The Malheur occupiers are far from a “rising tide” of grassroots sentiment. The leaders of this gang are not even from the local community; many of them hail from places like Ohio, Florida and Tennessee. Far from representing Western opinion, they are just a group of free-roaming political activists who took their fight to one unsuspecting community.

Nonetheless, some enterprising politicians are using the media circus around the Malheur occupation as an opportunity to revive an agenda to transfer national forests and other public lands to state control.

We’ve heard this rhetoric before. During the 2015 Legislature, numerous bills were introduced to support the state takeover of public lands. These bills got a fair hearing and all of them were defeated. Why? Because of overwhelming public opposition. Montanans know that transferring millions of acres of public land from one bureaucracy to another won’t solve any management problems. It is political snake oil that would reduce public access and bust the state budget.

Public land management is complex. It is difficult to balance competing interests and support local economies, protect wildlife habitat and ensure public access. Since the first national forests were created more than a century ago, land managers and local communities have put a lot of hard work into meeting everyone’s needs.

Over-heated political rhetoric and unworkable schemes don’t give us real solutions. Instead of the political grandstanding, we need to sit down, roll up our sleeves and support real solutions.

First, we need to support collaborative efforts that bring people together to find common ground. There are plenty of great examples around Montana. Last year, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act implemented a land management proposal developed by conservationists, ranchers and local communities. Similar place-based efforts are underway in the Blackfoot-Clearwater basins, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests, among others. Bringing local people together is how we manage resource development, protect wildlife habitat and preserve public access.

To complement local efforts, we need our elected officials to continue to work to pass bipartisan, common-sense policies at the national level. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a widely supported program that funds land acquisitions that consolidate federal ownership, improve access and streamline management. The program needs to be permanently authorized and fully funded.

Changing the ways the U.S. Forest Service pays for wildfire funding would free up funds for other necessary public land management, restoration and conservation programs. These reforms also enjoy bipartisan support.

We should have zero tolerance for the lawbreakers at Malheur. Sooner or later, they need to be held accountable. Our elected leaders need to remember that Montanans cherish our federal lands and overwhelmingly support keeping public lands in public hands.

Kathy Hadley lives in Deer Lodge. She is a life-long hunter and angler and the current president of Montana Wildlife Federation.

Montana sportsmen: Utah lawmaker threatens the future of hunting and fishing

mountain lake

HELENA MT – Montana sportsmen say a proposal by a Utah Rep. Rob Bishop to gut the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) would be a disaster for the future of hunting and fishing and virtually end America’s most effective tool for conserving habitat and public access.

The Utah Republican today unveiled a first look at his plans to upend the program in the House Natural Resources Committee. Among other things, Bishop’s plan would drastically divert historic funding away from projects that seek to conserve wildlife habitat and expand public access to hunt and fish.

Since 1965, the Land & Water Conservation Fund has helped conserve habitat and open up access across Montana and the rest of the United States. For example, more than half of fishing access sites in Montana were paid for with help from LWCF.

Montanans were quick to condemn Bishop’s move.

“The Land & Water Conservation Fund works for Montanans and all Americans. To say it needs ‘reform’ is an insult to its 50-year track record of success,” said Hannah Ryan, co-chair of the Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “This legislation should be seen what it is: an ideologically driven effort to torpedo America’s most successful conservation and access program.”

“All we need is full funding for LWCF,” said Kathy Hadley, President of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Reform is just a diversion to run the clock down on the program. At best, it means taking funding away from America’s outdoor families. At worst, it means killing LWCF completely.”

Montana’s entire Congressional Delegation is on the record supporting LWCF, following a hard-fought effort to reauthorize it at the end of the 2015 fiscal year in September. Rep. Bishop was among those who held up reauthorizing the 50-year-old program.

LWCF, which enjoys bipartisan support and relies on offshore oil leases and not taxpayer funding, has invested in everything from playgrounds, swimming pools, and local parks. In Montana, LWCF is responsible for recently opening up public access to the famed Tenderfoot Creek in the Lewis and Clark National Forest and helped pay for most of the state’s fishing access sites, statewide.

“If you are a hunter or angler in Montana, you’ve used an access point purchased through LWCF,” said Jim Vashro a retired Fish, Wildlife, and Parks fisheries biologist and President of Flathead Wildlife in Kalispell, MT. “The program doesn’t need reform, it just needs reauthorization and full funding.”

Although the program isn’t currently authorized, stakeholders are still hopeful for a year-end fix. They don’t see any path forward for Rep. Bishop’s current vision.

“Montana has long been a leader in the effort to fund and reauthorize LWCF,” said Glenn Marx, Executive Director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. “We will not let attacks on the program distract us from moving forward.”

 

The Montana Wildlife Federation depends on your support to keep up the fight for public access, public wildlife, and public land.  Donate today.

CONGRESS MUST STOP RAIDING LWCF

rivermountain3

In 1964, Congress enacted the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to set aside a portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas development to pay for parks, wildlife habitat, and other natural areas. In other words, the money the federal government makes from developing public resources is dedicated back into conserving other public resources.

LWCF provides a simple, common-sense way to offset some of the impacts of oil and gas drilling and support much-needed land conservation without using taxpayer dollars. It’s no wonder that LWCF was enacted with bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats all saw the thrifty wisdom in this common-sense program.

Under the law, the LWCF is supposed to provide $900 million a year in funding to purchase land, water, and public access. Over the last 50 years, the fund has accrued a total of about $36 billion from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Unfortunately, Congress has regularly raided the LWCF to cover other government spending. Nearly every year since the program has created, Congress has voted to divert the fund to pay for other government expenditures.

Nobody knows exactly where LWCF dollars have gone, but we do know that less than half of the intended funding has actually ended up in land protection. More than $19 billion of the LWCF has been spent on pork barrel construction projects, unnecessary government programs, and abandoned military hardware – but not the land and water protection the law intended.

Despite the diversion of funds, the LWCF has had some real successes. Over the last 50 years, LWCF has resulted in about $16 billion in funding nationwide, protecting everything from national forest wilderness lands to fishing access sites to urban parks. Over $400 million has gone to Montana projects. 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 has been used to acquire most of Montana’s fishing access sites as well as key parcels that open up large areas of “land-locked” public land for hunting and fishing.

LWCF has meant a lot for Montana. The fund has help provide communities across the state with new municipal pools, golf courses, tennis courts, baseball fields, town parks and trails. It’s also been used in Montana to preserve forest lands that help protect the water supplies that we depend on for drinking water and irrigation. LWCF is used to obtain public access sites to our rivers and public lands and has been crucial to protecting hunting, fishing, backpacking and every other outdoor activity that makes Montana such a great place to live. In addition to supporting our quality of life, the program has fueled the Treasure State’s $6 billion outdoor recreation economy.

Fortunately for us, both Senator Jon Tester and Senator Steve Daines have expressed support for LWCF, and they have both cosponsored Senate Bill 338, which permanently authorizes the program. That’s a great start. Senator Tester has gone a step further and also cosponsored Senate Bill 890, which both permanently authorizes the fund and locks in the $900 million in annual spending, protecting it from future budget raids.

Just imagine what we could accomplish if Congress stopped hijacking LWCF and allowed all of the funds to go to their intended purpose. With a 50 year track record, this program doesn’t need any debate, evaluation, or “reform.” The partially-funded LWCF has done great things for Montanans and all Americans. The time has come for our elected officials to restore full funding to LWCF.

Kathy Hadley lives in Deer Lodge. She is president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.
A version of this article appeared in the Helena IR. You can see that version here

Help us secure FULL funding for the LWCF. See how you can GET INVOLVED or DONATE TODAY!

Join Today

Add your email to start protecting Montana's natural treasures.

Alec Underwood

Federal Conservation Campaigns Director

Alec is responsible for developing and implementing MWF’s federal conservation advocacy and policy campaigns to protect Montana’s fish and wildlife. He spends most of his free time hunting big game and fly fishing Montana’s cherished trout rivers. He also enjoys backpacking, skiing, photography, and woodworking. 

alec@mtwf.org