HELENA – U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said Monday he’s signing onto a Democrat’s bill to permanently authorize and fully fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Flanked by several conservation advocates at a news conference at Spring Meadow Lake State Park in Helena, Daines said the fund is vital for preserving outdoor landscapes, parks, family farms and access to public lands.
“We want to build this bipartisan coalition to depoliticize LWCF, and do the right thing to get it done,” he said. “These are efforts that bring our nation together; they shouldn’t polarize, they should bring it together.”
Yet while Daines said he supports the bill to fully fund LWCF, he also said it’s more likely Congress may authorize a lower amount – which is still far above what the Trump administration had originally proposed for the 2019 budget.
Mark Lambrecht of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, who attended the news conference, said broad Senate support of the bill to fully fund LWCF should “provide some leverage” as the House and Senate hammer out a final budget in the coming weeks.
Daines on Monday threw his support behind Senate Bill 569, which is sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Introduced in 2017, the bill would permanently authorize LWCF and fund it at $900 million a year.
The fund, financed from royalties paid on offshore oil production, has been authorized from year to year. Its current annual budget is $425 million.
President Trump’s proposed 2019 federal budget reduced the fund to $8 million.
The fund helped finance $240 million worth of projects in Montana from 2005 to 2014, including parks, trails, ball fields, fishing access sites and conservation easements that help preserve family farms and ranches and increase public access to public lands.
“Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, we wouldn’t be able to keep family ranches working from generation to generation to generation,” said Mark Aagenes, director of external affairs for the Nature Conservancy in Montana. “That’s another just absolutely critical piece of LWCF that we need to see reauthorized by September 30th.”
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has been a sponsor of the Cantwell bill since its introduction in March 2017.
Tester spokesman Dave Kuntz told MTN News Monday that the senator “welcomes Sen. Daines’ commitment to the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” and urges him to use his influence to “stand up to anyone who wants to weaken public access to our public land.”