Tester fights to expand public access to public lands

Senator proposed greater support for Land and Water Conservation Fund

(U.S. Senate) – During an Appropriations Committee debate today, Senator Jon Tester fought to increase public access to public lands.

Tester offered an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill that would provide $400 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which supports conservation easements, land acquisition, and state and local efforts to increase public access for outdoor recreation.

“If we’re able to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at a reasonable level, then we can do some good things to keep these lands and these very important ecosystems around for future generations,” Tester said. “It is the right thing to do for our kids and our grandkids, and it’s the right thing to do for this country.”

During today’s hearing, Tester pointed out that the bill’s funding level does not meet the national demand for conservation and public access expansion. Tester noted that full funding of LWCF would total $900 million.

Tester’s amendment failed on a 16-14 party line vote. The Interior Appropriations bill, as passed by the committee, funds LWCF at $306 million.

LWCF is not paid for with taxpayer dollars but is instead funded with receipts from offshore oil and gas development. It funds land acquisition and conservation – making purchases only from willing sellers. LWCF is critical to preserving unique hunting and recreation areas throughout the United States.

“We are grateful for Senator Tester’s consistent leadership on LWCF, and for his effort today to increase FY 16 funding for the program and to undo the destructive budget caps that continue to shortchange these and other critical needs,” said Kathy DeCoster, Vice President of The Trust for Public Land on behalf of the Land and Water Conservation Fund coalition. “His amendment in the Appropriations Committee was a powerful acknowledgment that more LWCF funding is needed to address now-or-never priorities — and that without a new budget agreement, funding essential to communities, local economies, and iconic landscapes will continue to be hamstrung. We appreciate and share Senator Tester’s commitment to securing full, permanent and dedicated funding for LWCF.”

“Public land provides the wildlife habitat and public access that make Montana the best place in the world to hunt and fish” said Dave Chadwick, Executive Director of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Montana hunters and anglers are grateful to Senator Tester for his efforts to increase funding for LWCF in this year’s budget and his steadfast commitment to permanently funding the program.”

“Teddy Roosevelt was the greatest advocate for protecting our outdoors, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund ensures that his legacy will continue for generations to come. TRCP supports Senator Tester’s call for LWCF funding so we can protect critical habitat and ensure that sportsmen and women of all ages can access our outdoors,” said Joel Webster, Director of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands.

Tester last year brought Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to Montana and showed her how local ranchers and conservationists used LWCF to protect over 600,000 acres in the Blackfoot River watershed.

Tester is also a sponsor of a bill to permanently reauthorize the LWCF. The fund will expire on September 30, 2015 if Congress doesn’t act.