Tester Asks Zinke Tough Questions About Plan to Gut LWCF
Senator Secures Commitment from Interior Secretary to Work Together to Support Successful Public Lands Initiative
(U.S. Senate)- After hearing from numerous Montanans about the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, U.S. Senator Jon Tester asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tough questions today about the Administration’s attempt to gut hundreds of millions of dollars from the popular and successful Fund.
Tester questioned Zinke during a Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing over the Interior Department’s proposal to cut $417 million from LWCF, which is used to expand public access to public lands.
“In order for people to know how important LWCF is, we have got to have an advocate in this administration,” Tester told Zinke.
Tester worked with Republicans and Democrats in March to secure $425 million for LWCF in a government funding bill. Zinke proposed a budget to Congress recently that cut that LWCF funding down to $8.1 million. LWCF is authorized to receive up to $900 million annually.
“What is the justification for funding LWCF at only $8.1 million,” Tester asked Zinke. “The truth is that these ecosystems won’t be around in 20 years.”
Zinke responded to Tester with a commitment to work with the Senate Appropriations Committee to restore the funding the Administration aimed to cut in his proposed budget.
Montanans have successfully used LWCF since 1965 to create numerous public fishing access sites and expand public access to hiking trails and hunting areas across Montana.
Tester also questioned Zinke during the hearing about the Interior Department’s proposal to change the way it funds deferred maintenance in the country’s National Parks. In his proposed budget to Congress, Zinke unveiled a plan to fund the deferred maintenance at National Parks through new oil and gas leasing revenues, similar to the way LWCF is funded.
Tester voiced his skepticism of the proposal because it could lead to a further deferred maintenance backlog at Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.
“LWCF is funded at a pittance, $8 million when it should be $900 million,” Tester told Zinke. “Why should we think this proposal will be any different if it is going to be similar to LWCF?”
Yellowstone National Park currently has a deferred maintenance backlog of $515 million. Glacier National Park currently has a deferred maintenance backlog of $153 million.
Tester successfully pushed Zinke recently to drop his proposal to double the entrance fees at Yellowstone and Glacier National Park to pay for deferred maintenance.
In order to complete the rural water infrastructure projects in northcentral and northeast Montana, as well as the Blackfeet Water Compact, Tester also pressed Zinke for proposing to cut $81 million from the Bureau of Reclamation’s rural water project account during the hearing. Earlier this week Tester secured over $30 million for Montana’s rural water infrastructure projects.
Tester is a senior member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, the committee that sets funding levels for the Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau of Land Management.