Tester Demands Interior Secretary Reverse Order Forcing Regulations on Private Landowners, Kneecapping LWCF

Senator: “This undercuts what a landowner can do with their own private property, and creates unnecessary, additional levels of bureaucracy”

After Interior Secretary David Bernhardt issued a secretarial order undermining the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by placing additional burdensome federal regulations on private landowners and their property, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today demanded that Bernhardt reverse course and rescind the directive.

“I am deeply concerned by the Department of Interior’s repeated attempts to undermine LWCF over the last two weeks,” wrote Tester. “Secretarial Order number 3388 issued by the Department today puts further restraints on LWCF, one of our nation’s most critical conservation and public land access programs. I urge you to immediately rescind this anti-public land order.”

Tester continued, “This undercuts what a landowner can do with their own private property, and creates unnecessary, additional levels of bureaucracy that will hamstring future land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

Secretary Bernhardt’s order requires private landowners to obtain written support from county and state governments before they can voluntarily initiate a land sale through LWCF. It also requires Interior to prioritize projects for the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service over any other bureau, neglecting the Bureau of Land Management’s 245 million acres of public land, and relies on LWCF projects to resolve public land access issues, and it constrains all land acquisitions to current boundaries of federal land. This will significantly impede Interior’s ability to utilize LWCF to resolve complex land access issues.

“The strength of this program has been its ability to work with a wide array of stakeholders to protect our most important landscapes and create new recreational opportunities,” Tester concluded. “Any changes to implementing this program should be made as a result of careful, collaborative public engagement, and in line with the intent of Congress. This order meets neither standard.”

Last week, Tester took Secretary Bernhardt and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to task after they missed a statutory deadline to submit a list of priority LWCF projects to Congress, as required by Tester’s recently passed Great American Outdoors Act. In lieu of a project list from the Administration, Tester used his position in the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to include a number of priority Montana LWCF projects in the Senate’s Interior Appropriations legislation released earlier this week. Those projects include:

  • U.S. Forest Service Projects:
    • $8 million for the Miller Lake Valley
    • $6 million for Lolo Trails maintenance and restoration
    • $6 million for the Kootenai Forestlands Conservation Project
    • $4 million for the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project
  • Bureau of Land Management Projects:
    • $10 million for the Lower Musselshell River Conservation Project
    • $3.3 million for the Blackfoot River watershed
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Projects:
    • $2 million for Montana National Wildlife Refuges and Conservation Areas

Tester first introduced a bill to fully fund the LWCF in 2009, and until recently was the only member of the Montana delegation to support full, mandatory funding for LWCF.

Tester’s letter to Bernhardt can be found HERE.

Tester’s letter to Bernhardt and Perdue from last week can be found HERE.