Baucus, Tester reintroduce Land, Water Conservation Fund bill


by Rob Chaney

After losing a close effort at the end of last year, U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Montana Democrats, have again offered a bill to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The program draws money from offshore oil and gas royalties for projects benefiting fish, wildlife and recreation throughout the nation. In Montana, LCWF money has helped pay for Missoula’s Caras Park, the Montana Legacy Project and fishing access sites.

“It was reintroduced about an hour ago,” Baucus spokeswoman Kathy Weber said on Thursday afternoon.

Feb. 14 marked the 50th anniversary of President John Kennedy sending the original LCWF bill to Congress in 1963, she said.

The new bill would send $900 million a year into the fund from the oil and gas royalties, not general-fund tax dollars. It would make that annual funding a permanent decision, so it wouldn’t have to be reauthorized.

“This would provide more permanence and stability to work on projects and do good conservation on the ground,” said the Wilderness Society conservation funding director Alan Rowsome from Washington, D.C. “That saves dollars in the long run, as opposed to having them constantly in limbo. It helps states like Montana to plan out good conservation opportunities.”

Last year, a similar bill seeking $700 million in a two-year transportation funding bill was widely supported in the Senate, but stripped out in the House of Representatives.

Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina is also lead sponsor of the bill. Rowsome said the bipartisan support might signal a different style of action for Congress this year.

“For most of the last Congress, the order of the day was only big bills moving and finding opportunities where you could within that realm,” Rowsome said. “That could be the way of doing business again in this Congress, but many (committee) chairmen want to have more robust conversations and to move more legislation this time. They’re talking about a goal of operating in the regular order as often as possible.”