Interior secretary touts public lands, funding in Montana

Great Falls Tribune

by Karl Puckett

Helena – U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke at Hauser Lake northeast of here Tuesday to promote public lands and full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, raise awareness about the outdoors economy and unveil new funding for youth in conservation.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., hosted Jewell, and they took off to visit Browning following speeches at Devil’s Elbow at Hauser Lake, a Bureau of Land Management campground that has benefitted from LWCF money in the past.

As interior secretary, Jewell leads an agency with more than 70,000 employees that manage 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land management lands. She is the 51st interior secretary and was nominated by President Barack Obama.

Jewell told more than 100 people who gathered at the campground overlooking the lake that the nation needs “to think big about our landscapes.”

Rather than managing public lands project by project, lands need to be managed holistically, she said.

“And of course we need to invest in public lands,” said Jewell, telling the crowd it was OK to applaud, which they did.

She said there has been no more brilliant legislation than the LWCF.

The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964 to safeguard natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. The fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to help strengthen communities.

The U.S. Senate passed energy legislation earlier this month that includes a provision to permanently reauthorize of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The House has yet to pass legislation permanently reauthorizing the fund.

Tester also has introduced stand-alone legislation that will permanently reauthorize LWCF and fund it.

“Unfortunately, LWCF does not receive the funding it’s supposed to,” Tester said.

A coalition of conservation, recreation, environment, business, historic and cultural organizations are working to fund LWCF at the congressionally authorized level of $900 million annually.

Tester said the LWCF has only been fully funded twice since it was created.

“None of this would be possible without public lands,” Tester said of the 45-camp site Devil’s Elbow campground.

LWCF funding helped purchase 20,000 acres in the Hauser lake area, he added.

Jewell also announced funding to engage youth in service on public lands including $121,000 for Montana as part of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, a public-private partnership to raise funds to put youth and veterans to work on public lands and waters across the nation.

“This is an important part of your economy,” Jewell said of public lands.

That’s why she is calling for an annual study of the economic impacts of public lands nationwide, she said.

Outdoor recreation nationwide is a $646 billion industry and a $6 billion industry in Montana, she said.

“But it’s kind of under the radar,” she said.