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Pressure Mounts on Daines Over Conservation Fund, Pendley Support

Montanans gathered outside the Bozeman office of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., to call for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Montana Conservation Voters)
Montanans gathered outside the Bozeman office of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., to call for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Montana Conservation Voters)
November 19, 2019

HELENA, Mont. — Groups in Montana are pushing for Sen. Steve Daines to back up his stated commitment to public lands with action. Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is looking at a bill to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is used to open access to public lands, as well as for projects such as city parks, hiking trails and baseball fields.

Last week, the Montana Public Interest Research Group, or MontPIRG, and other groups held an event outside of Daines' Bozeman office in support of full funding for the LWCF. Hunter Losing, deputy director of MontPIRG, said the senator's staff put up a banner saying Daines fully supports the program.

"Despite that, the Senate's only brought forward $465 million, and we know that Daines can go to Mitch McConnell and make this happen, but he hasn't done it yet, and we're really relying on this money to continue to access public lands throughout the state,” Losing said.

Daines is co-sponsoring the bill today for full and dedicated funding to the LWCF, but as a Senate funds appropriator, he has only secured half of the $900 million for fiscal year 2020.

Montana Conservation Voters joined MontPIRG at Daines' office last week. Whitney Tawney, deputy director with the group, said they too are concerned about the lack of full funding for the LWCF.

Montana Conservation Voters also is critical of Daines' support for William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management. Pendley has a history of calling for the sell-off of public lands. Tawney said these positions are two strikes against the senator for Montanans who support the outdoors.

"First strike: not fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Second strike: supporting a man who supports public-lands transfer,” Tawney said. “And we as Montanans can't afford that because there's 98% of us that say our outdoor recreation is a value and that is why we live here."

Tawney said opposition to full LWCF funding could also hurt Montana's outdoor recreation economy, which is worth $7 billion. She said Daines has talked about his support for public lands in the past but has yet to show it.

"We're definitely wanting some action, and if action was to happen, we would be the first people to thank him,” she said. “But the reality is he's said just enough to get the 'thank yous' and we're not in that camp."

The $900 million-a-year LWCF program is funded through offshore oil revenues.

Disclosure: Montana Conservation Voters & Education Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT