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Montana Coalition Pushes for Bipartisan LWCF Renewal

A Montana coalition of sportsmen's and conservation groups opposes changes to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Credit: tpdave/Pixabay
A Montana coalition of sportsmen's and conservation groups opposes changes to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Credit: tpdave/Pixabay
November 25, 2015

HELENA, Mont. – A broad coalition of conservationists, sportsmen and political leaders is speaking out against a move in Washington, D. C., to replace a long-standing program that uses oil and gas royalties to conserve land, with one that diverts much of the royalty money for other purposes.

Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing on the proposed Protecting America's Recreation and Conservation (PARC) Act as a potential replacement for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The latter program expired in September when a small group of congressional Republicans blocked a vote.

Dave Chadwick, who heads the Montana Wildlife Federation, said the PARC Act would essentially gut the LWCF, a program that has been in place for 50 years.

"It has broad bipartisan support in Congress," said Chadwick of the LWCF. "It's really just being held up by a small fringe that has an ideological problem with public lands, despite the many benefits that public land provides for those of us who live in the West."

Just since 2005, Montana has received almost $240 million for projects through LWCF programs. Over the years, it has helped fund 800 local parks and sports fields, and has contributed funds to about 70 percent of Montana's fishing access sites.

The PARC Act would limit the government's ability to buy land, including isolated, private parcels surrounded by federal land. It also would set aside 20 percent of the royalty revenues to retrain oil and gas workers as the economy converts to clean energy.

To John Gale, conservation director for the group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, conservation money should not be siphoned off for that purpose.

"We think the time is now to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund as it exists now – and then, fully fund it," Gale said.

The entire Montana congressional delegation has indicated support for the LWCF.

Alan Rowsome, The Wilderness Society's senior director of government relations for lands, is optimistic that the LWCF will win out, and be permanently reauthorized.

"I think that there is a political will and momentum building, with bipartisan members of Congress who want to see this done," said Rowsome. "And that should hopefully be helpful and important to keeping this on the agenda, and having it be a part of the conversation for a legislative victory, moving forward."

If nothing is done, the monies that were once set aside for conservation will simply be returned to the U.S. Treasury's general fund.

The House Committee on Natural Resources is expected to hold another hearing, but has not yet set a date.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT