Tester pans Trump’s outdoor budget

by Michael Wright, Bozeman Chronicle

Montana’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester doesn’t think much of the Trump administration’s proposed budget for federal land management agencies.

“It’s bad for Montana’s outdoor economy, and it’s bad for Montana outdoor businesses,” Tester said.

Tester held a conference call with outdoor advocates and reporters Tuesday afternoon, and he panned the proposed budget as “irresponsible.” He said the proposed cuts to national parks and other programs would harm Montana’s recreation-based economy. He also said that it will provide ammunition for the movement to transfer control of federal lands to the states, a move many see as the first step toward privatization.

The Trump administration argues its budget will streamline government and “drive an economic boom that raises incomes and expands job opportunities for all Americans.” When it was released earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a conference call that the Interior budget focuses money toward the department’s highest priorities, including tackling the maintenance backlog in national parks and funding fire suppression.

Tester doesn’t buy that this budget will do the trick, saying Tuesday that it “pays for closing trails, locking up land and shuttering visitor centers.” He said he’ll be working to restore funding where certain cuts have been proposed, and he thinks he can be effective even as a member of the minority party.

“I think there’s bipartisan concern with this budget,” Tester said.

He said it underfunds the management of public lands, including trail and road maintenance and grant programs that provide funding to county governments. He also bemoaned proposed cuts to Montana’s flagship national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone. He said the proposal would cut $2 million from Yellowstone’s budget.

Overall, the National Park Service’s 2018 budget request is $296.6 million less than its 2017 budget. Such cuts, Tester said, will result in fewer dollars available for keeping campgrounds clean and for hiring people to deal with visitors.

He also talked about the proposed cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is proposed to be funded at $64 million in the 2018 budget. The fund, which is filled with royalties from offshore drilling, offers grants to states for a variety of projects, including fishing accesses and city parks. Some conservatives have argued that money from the fund should be used for maintenance on existing federal lands instead of acquiring new land.

Randy Newberg, a hunting TV show host who lives in Bozeman, said the fund, which is known as LWCF, helped unlock access to public lands all over southwestern Montana, including various creek drainages up the Gallatin River.

“All of that is now something we take for granted because of the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Newberg said.

Montana’s Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who has been a supporter of LWCF in the past, said in an emailed statement that public lands are “central to our way of life,” and that he also wants to see the federal budget balanced.

“We need to balance the budget without reducing funds for programs that are critical to our way of life,” Daines said.