Tester signs on to reauthorize Land and Water Conservation Fund

Tom Kuglin

by Helena Independent Record

Sen. Jon Tester signed on as a co-sponsor Wednesday to a bill permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Introduced Feb. 3, by Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, S.388 would eliminate LWCF’s sunset on Sept. 30, 2015 in favor of permanent authorization. The bill would also provide that the greater of 1.5 percent or $10 million of the fund’s annual appropriation go toward securing recreational public access to existing federal lands.

Both Tester and Republican Sen. Steve Daines also recently threw their support behind the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act placing a $10 million access requirement on LWCF.

The 1965 LWCF takes off-shore oil lease royalties and turns them into matching grants for buying fish and wildlife habitat. In the last half-century, it has funded more than $400 million in projects in Montana and $15 billion in projects nationwide.

Although some Montanans oppose the fund, the program provides places for future generations to enjoy, Tester said in a previous interview.

“I think it’s just a very good program,” he said. “I think there’s good bipartisan support that bodes well for LWCF.”

On Jan. 29, Daines attempted to amend the Keystone XL Pipeline authorization bill with an amendment prioritizing LWCF for the Senate. Daines has said he supports the fund, but would like to look at ways to improve the program’s structure and efficiency.

Opponents of Daines’ stance have said LWCF works well as-is and needs funding rather than alteration.

The Daines amendment failed 47-51 with Tester among those voting against.

Tester opposed the Daines amendment because it may have authorized funding for land management or firefighting rather than land purchases, he said.

Burr then brought an amendment similar to S.388 to permanently reauthorize the fund. Tester supported the measure while Daines voted against. The amendment failed by a single vote, and conservation groups levied criticism at Daines for his vote.

Daines maintained that he supported LWCF after the vote, saying, “Let’s have an open transparent process with stakeholders. No one believes any federal program is perfect.”

On Wednesday, Daines spokeswoman Alee Lockman said the senator continues supporting the program.

“Steve strongly supports LWCF and will continue working to reauthorize this important program,” she said. “He will continue evaluating the best way to achieve both the conservation goals and forest management reforms that Montanans want to see.”

Tester said in February that he believed successful reauthorization of the fund would come in the form of an amendment to other legislation. Tester, former Sen. John Walsh and then-Rep. Daines used that strategy last year to attach legislation including protections for the North Fork of the Flathead River and Rocky Mountain Front to the National Defense Reauthorization Act.