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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

LWCF Gains Bipartisan Support To Expand Montana Public Land Access

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

A U.S. Senate committee Tuesday approved a trio of bills supporters say will fund conservation projects and streamline dispute resolution on public lands.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund garnered bipartisan support Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Five Republicans, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, joined all 11 Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to advance the measure to the Senate floor.

“There’s over 1.5-million acres of federal land in Montana the public cannot get to. LWCF is a tool that we can use to give Montana families access to their public lands," Daines says.

LWCF uses government revenue from offshore oil and gas leases to buy conservation easements and expand public lands, as well as access to those lands.

The program, which also has the support of Congressman Greg Gianforte and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, lapsed Monday. A separate measure sponsored by Tester to prevent mining north of Yellowstone National Park cleared that same committee Tuesday. The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act passed on a unanimous vote. 

Tester has said in previous hearings that, “If we screw up that park with a large scale mine we are not doing justice to the earth or the people who live on it.”

A U.S. House committee passed Gianforte’s companion Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act bill last week.

The committee Tuesday also advanced a bill that Daines says will reduce ‘fringe’ timber litigation.

Daines’ 'Protect Collaboration for Healthier Forests Act’ would create a 5-year pilot program in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. It would allow the Forest Service to resolve disputes over collaborative projects using an arbitrator instead of the court system.

Daines says the bill is fair to all sides.

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow disagrees, saying it “.. would essentially close the courtroom door to any American who wants to challenge the legality of government management decisions on public lands.”

The measure passed out of committee on a 13 to 10 vote.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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