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Tester, Daines Back Increases For Land And Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses royalties from offshore oil and gas development to fund outdoor projects.

A powerful Senate committee Thursday increased funding for a public lands access program, but Montana's senators disagreed on the amount.

Republican Steve Daines said he partnered with Republican Susan Collins of Maine to secure an additional $14 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, bringing the total allocation for it to $306 million, in a bill funding the Department of Interior.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund sets aside revenue from off-shore oil and gas leases for the purchase of private land for conservation purposes. It's been used to buy fishing access sites and consolidate checkerboarded national forest lands in Montana. The fund has broad support from environmental groups, hunters and big Montana timber companies.

Democrat Jon Tester tried to secure more money for the fund today in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. But his amendment to allocate $400 million was defeated on a party line vote. Tester says the Land and Water Conservation Fund should ultimately be fully funded, at the $900 million level originally passed by Congress.

The fund is set to expire at the end of September unless it's re-authorized by Congress.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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