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Report: Access is “Bank” for MT Outdoor-Recreation Industry

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PHOTO: Dan Austin, owner of Austin-Lehman Adventures in Billings, is applauding introduction of a bill to full fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
PHOTO: Dan Austin, owner of Austin-Lehman Adventures in Billings, is applauding introduction of a bill to full fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
 By Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Contact
February 19, 2013

BILLINGS, Mont. - More money for parks, pathways and access to public lands at no cost to taxpayers. That's the deal Montana Senator Max Baucus is promoting in Congress, with a bill to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF uses offshore oil and gas tax funds to improve public spaces.

According to a report by the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoors recreation brings almost $6 billion to Montana each year, along with 64,000 jobs.

Dan Austin, who owns Austin-Lehman Adventures in Billings, said the LWCF is an obvious connection to the economic benefits.

"And we're always talking about using our recreational opportunities as a draw, to draw in new businesses, new residents," he said. "Just a big part of why our economy has been so robust even when, around the country, it might not have been so positive."

LWCF has been around for many years, but not always fully funded, as the money has been diverted to other budget items.

Austin said the legacy of the LWCF is seen throughout the state, from preservation of ranch land along the Rocky Mountain Front to the Blackfoot River Resource Management Area.

"In this day and age, where taxpayers are so shell-shocked with paying additional taxes, I think educating the public that this money is already earmarked, it isn't coming out of our pocketbooks," is important, Ausin said.

The bill introduced by Baucus has bipartisan support. This is the 50th anniversary of the original legislation to establish the fund.

Montana Senator Jon Tester is a co-sponsor of the LWCF bill.

The bill is the "Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2013." The Outdoor Industry Association's report on the economic impact of outdoor recreation is at OutdoorIndustry.org.

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