Congress Fails To Reauthorize Land & Water Conservation Fund

Sep 30, 2015

The Land and Water Conservation Fund which uses fees paid by offshore oil and gas drilling companies for conservation programs, has suffered a significant defeat in Congress.

It wasn't included in a stopgap funding bill that staved off a government shutdown. It's the first time in its 50-year history it hasn't been reauthorized.

Congress failed to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation fund in a stopgap funding bill that staved off a government shutdown.

Montana's senior senator, Democrat Jon Tester, places blame for the measure's failure squarely on the shoulders of congressional Republicans.

"Democrats don't control the House, they don't control the Senate. This is totally on the people who control those two bodies. I would tell you that if there was a Democrat out there holding the Land and Water Conservation Fund up, we would have a very animated conversation. Nobody's willing to do that on the other side."

Conservative Republicans who oppose the Land and Water Conservation Fund say it's expanding the federal government's ownership of land. Senator Tester not only disagrees, but says the program, through outdoor recreation, contributes about $6 billion annually to Montana's economy.

Republican U.S. Senator Steve Daines has co-signed a measure to permanently reauthorize the program. He says Tester's right, the LWCF is good for Montana.

"And LWCF is a critical tool that helps facilitate recreation on our public lands, allowing Montana businesses to attract world class employees and we can't let it slip away."

Conservationist Land Tawney is president of a group called Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Tawny says the Conservation Fund helps bankroll everything from large conservation acquisitions to smaller parks and fishing sites easily accessed by city dwellers.

"Access is the number one issue that's been facing hunters and anglers and has been for a while. Over half the people hunt and fish in Montana and more and more folks are moving here to enjoy our great state every year. If the Land and Water Conservation Fund goes away, we lose the number one tool to address diminishing access."

Sen. Tester urged the crowd to advocate for LWCF funding at an August 24 rally in Missoula, MT.
Credit Josh Burnham / MTPR

Senator Tester says he's not above, as he puts it, "raising a little heck" to revive the measure.

"If people are going to cut the legs out from under a program that really helps drive Montana's economy, then we're going to have to do stuff like hold bills and make life miserable for them. That's not a bipartisan way that is the way I like to see things happen, but I'm telling you I'm not going to let a bunch of jobs leave Montana without folks hearing me."