Tester: I Won’t Allow Congress to Undermine Montana’s Public Land Access

Senator Opposes Budget Bill that Cuts $50 Million from LWCF and Fails to Support Sound Forest Management

(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester today opposed a budget bill that harms public access in Montana and fails to reform the way the U.S. Forest Service pays to fight wildfires.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Tester opposed the 2017 Interior Appropriations Bill, which cuts $50 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and will force the Forest Service to once again spend more than half of its budget next year to fight wildfires.

“I won’t allow Congress to undermine Montanans’ access to our public lands or proper forest management,” Tester said. “While this bill has some good things in it, overall this bill will harm our outdoor way of life, reduce our ability to manage our forests, and limit opportunities for those of us who love to hike, hunt, and fish.”

LWCF uses revenues from offshore oil and gas development to support conservation easements, land acquisition, and state and local efforts to increase public access for outdoor recreation. The LWCF expands access to public lands without spending a dime of taxpayer money.

After LWCF’s authorization expired for the first time in 50 years, Tester successfully pushed his Senate colleagues to permanently reauthorize the popular conservation initiative in April.

The 2017 Interior Appropriations Bill also fails to adequately address the broken wildfire funding system that is burning through the Forest Service’s budget. Wildfire costs consumed 52 percent of the Forest Service’s 2015 budget, compared with just 16 percent 20 years ago.

Although Tester was successful in adding funding to help meet the expected cost of the 2017 fire season, the bill fails to provide a long-term solution to the budget challenges caused by more expensive fire seasons. Without a long-term solution, the Forest Service will likely face budget shortfalls again next year, meaning that much-needed trail maintenance, timber, research, and other forest management activities may be neglected.

Tester has introduced his bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act to pay for catastrophic wildfires costs through separate emergency funding, allowing the Forest Service to devote more resources to proactive forest management.

The 2017 Interior Appropriations Bill passed, 16-14, out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote.