A public lands package hailed by Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines could move forward this month, including a mineral withdrawal outside Yellowstone National Park and reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The package of bills will likely reach the Senate floor this week, the two lawmakers said.
“This package includes two made-in-Montana solutions to protect the doorstep of Yellowstone Park and expand public access to our public lands,” Tester said. “I’ve spent years working to push these bills across the finish line because they’ll strengthen opportunities for folks to hunt, hike, float and fish Montana’s treasured outdoor places for generations to come.”
As recently as December, Tester and Daines chided fellow lawmakers for failing to vote on the package of bills, calling reauthorization of the LWCF an easy move given its bipartisan support.
The fund was established in 1964 to safeguard public lands, water resources and cultural heritage using proceeds from off-shore drilling. But it expired in September, and while a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers fought to see it renewed, those efforts failed.
Daines sees a new opportunity to get the measure passed.
“LWCF is a critical conservation tool in Montana used to secure better access to our public lands,” Daines said. “Permanent reauthorization would ensure this program would exist for generations to come. We’ll take a major step forward next week and I won’t stop fighting until it’s done.”
Tester and Daines, along with Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, have been among the program’s most outspoken supporters. They gathered outside the Capitol with advocates several times last year, urging action in the Senate.
Tester blamed D.C. politics for the difficulties in getting a vote on the bills. His Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act was blocked in December by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Daines cosponsored the bill in December.
“It got held up by one senator,” Tester said. “I think this thing will pass by like 95-5. I just want it to pass. Hopefully we can have a good debate, a vigorous debate, and move it to the president’s desk.”