The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a landmark bill to permanently fund public lands management programs and maintenance in national parks.
Montana’s U.S. senators, Republican Steve Daines and Democrat Jon Tester, both voted in support of The Great American Outdoors Act. The Act received broad bipartisan support passing with a 73-25 vote.
If approved by Congress and signed by president Donald Trump, the act promises $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF uses offshore oil and gas lease royalties to pay for playgrounds, parks and other local projects.
The Act also sets aside $9.5 billion to address backlogged maintenance and infrastructure projects in the country’s national parks.
Both of Montana’s U.S. Senators are co-sponsors of the bill. Daines, who is running for reelection this year, commented on the importance of LWCF in a press call shortly after the vote.
“LWCF, as we think about it for Montana and for the nation, is good for public access,” Daines said. “It's good for jobs, it's good for wildlife habitat, it's good for land management. And the best part about it, it cost the taxpayer nothing.”
Tester said he’s introduced a bill to fund the LWCF every session since he was elected.
“Seven billion,” he said. “71,000 jobs. That is what the outdoor industry does for Montana's economy each and every year. And that is why, for the last 20 years that I've been involved in public service, I have been an advocate for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”
Trump called on Congress to send the bill to his desk after previously proposing slashing LWCF funding from his budget.
Montana-based wildlife and outdoor recreation groups praise the Great American Outdoors Act, saying it preserves critical habitat and boosts the state’s outdoor recreation economy.
Some livestock and other groups oppose the legislation, saying it allows land management agencies to add acreage to lands that are already poorly managed.
The Great American Outdoors Act now moves to the House, where Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte says he’ll support the bill.