Congress Expected To Temporarily Reauthorize Land & Water Conservation Fund

by Eric Whitney

The huge omnibus spending bill that Congress is expected to pass this week contains a temporary reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF. The LWCF enjoys broad support in Montana. It uses government revenue from off shore oil and gas leases to buy conservation easements and expand public land and access to public land across the country.

Congress allowed the LWCF to expire this fall, mostly due to opposition from Utah Republican Representartive Rob Bishop. Since then, conservation groups and western state lawmakers have been working to get it restored.

The deal to restore the LWCF in the federal spending bill is getting mixed reaction from conservationists like Dan Vermillion. Vermillion is a fishing guide from Livingston.

“I’m disappointed that it’s not a permanent reauthorization, but it could have been worse I guess, and that’s a sad state of affairs. This is a program that benefits so many people whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, it really benefits Montana and its economy. It seems like one of those programs that should be a no-brainer to reauthorize permanently.”

Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester had a harsher assessment of Congress’ work, witch reauthorizes the LWCF for three years, with a $450 million for 2016.

“I’m not happy at all about it. We have advocated for permanent authorization of the Land, Water Conservation Fund. We have advocated for fully funding it which is at $900 million, (annually) and neither one of those things happened in this bill. That’s very disappointing.”

Tester calls the LWCF a “critical conservation tool’ that contributes about $6 billion annually to Montana’s outdoor economy.