Missoulian: Feds miss deadline for LWCF project list

by Rob Chaney

Since Congress passed full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in August, both the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Interior have missed a Nov. 2 deadline to list projects they intend to nominate for the fund’s support.

The two departments oversee the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and several other agencies that manage public lands or team with state and local governments to do so. An overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in Congress authorized $900 million a year from off-shore energy royalty payments to pay for habitat acquisition, public access, park development and maintenance, and other conservation and recreation activity.

“Ninety-four days ago, the President signed the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act into law, which required the Department to submit a list by November 2nd,” Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester wrote Interior Secretary David Berhhardt on Friday. “The Department of the Interior missed this statutory deadline. This is unacceptable and must be corrected immediately. I urge the Department to uphold its role in administering LWCF and provide the project list to Congress.”

On Monday, a spokeswoman for Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines said his office had contacted both Agriculture and Interior as well as the Office of Management and Budget urging that the list be released. The spokeswoman added she expected the lists to be released on Tuesday.

Both Daines and Tester co-sponsored the Great American Outdoors Act, which included the permanent annual funding of LWCF. In previous years, Congress had diverted much of the fund’s revenue to other areas of the federal government. In August, Tester wrote both Bernhardt and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue urging fast action on the LWCF public lands projects.

“Mandatory funding guaranteed in this law will essentially double available annual funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, meaning that even more projects to assist states with local parks and trails are on the table,” Tester wrote in August. “…I encourage you to work aggressively with communities and stakeholder groups to find a full slate of projects to put Fiscal Year 2021’s $900 million to good use. This is your chance to make up for years of lost time and low funding levels.”

Tester serves on the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which is expected to review the agency’s budget early this week. A Tester spokesman said the subcommittee would likely make its own LWCF allocations.

Neither Agriculture nor Interior staff responded to Missoulian questions about Tester’s letter on Monday.

Montana has received more than $600 million in LWCF funding over the past five decades.