Reader’s opinion: Montana delegation can save Land & Water Conservation Fund

Earlier this month, George H.W. Bush was laid to rest beside his wife of 73 years, Barbara. The legacy of our 41st president is defined in part by Bush’s role as an avid sportsman who enthusiastically enjoyed hunting and fishing.

Like Bush, most American sportsmen and women realize that conservation should be a unifying force rather than something that divides us. Bush understood the solace and connectivity provided by wildlife and the outdoors. The former president supported many conservation issues during his time in office, often bucking his party to do so.

As the end of the lame duck session of Congress approaches, sportsmen and women, along with other outdoors users, are urging our elected officials to complete work on an issue that, if left unresolved, would fundamentally impact our ability to access and enjoy our U.S. lands and waters. Congress must reach agreement on a plan to permanently reauthorize and ensure full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Funded through royalties paid by energy companies drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, LWCF has enabled hunters and anglers across the nation and across Montana to access places to hunt and provided public access to our waterways, with 70 percent of river access sites in the state funded by LWCF dollars. LWCF has played a crucial role in conserving and maintaining public access to places like the Tenderfoot Creek drainage in the Little Belt Mountains, which in addition to encompassing irreplaceable native trout fisheries prized by backcountry anglers also is home to black bear, moose, elk and other wildlife important to hunters. Quite simply, LWCF improves Montanans’ quality of life by enhancing access to and wildlife habitat on our public lands.

Consistently, however, members of Congress have diverted LWCF funding to other unrelated expenses, authorizing the $900 full funding only twice in the 50-plus years since the program’s creation. And in September, Congress allowed this popular, successful program to expire … again.

Fortunately, Montana’s entire congressional delegation supports the permanent reauthorization of LWCF. We thank them for their support, yet more work and increased efforts are critical if LWCF is to be revived before the 115thCongress adjourns for the holidays.

Without permanent reauthorization or funding for LWCF, we cannot grow our state’s trails systems, improve fish and wildlife habitat or increase public access and recreational opportunities at meaningful scale. Long-term projects and highly leveraged real estate transactions like these don’t happen quickly and make the need for ensuring dedicated LWCF funding even more important.

What do Montana sportsmen and women want for Christmas? We want – and we deserve – a fully funded, permanently reauthorized Land and Water Conservation Fund. With the leadership of Sens. Tester and Daines and Rep. Gianforte, this outcome is within reach. Now is the time for our elected officials to support legislation to revive and fund LWCF – something that an overwhelming majority of Montanans support, no matter what side of the aisle they lean toward.

Sen. Tester, Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte: The time for action is now. Work with your colleagues and find a solution for the most successful conservation and outdoor recreation program in our nation’s history. It’s time to #saveLWCF.

John Sullivan is a Montana business owner and chair of the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He lives in Missoula.