Voices: Daines’ vote for LWCF “a blip on an abysmal public lands record”

Speaking on the Senate floor on June 9 in support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), Sen. Steve Daines had this to say:

“When I talk about public lands and protecting them and making sure we preserve that for future generations, this is not some kind of theoretical discussion. This is something I live and breathe personally. “

Montanans who have been tracking Daines’ public land record reacted to this speech in a way that calls to mind the comedy gag whereby someone takes a drink of water a moment before they hear or see something so ludicrous that they spit the water out in one explosive blast.

Daines should get credit, along with Sen. Tester, for passage of the Great American Outdoor Act, which includes full, permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

But his support for LWCF is but a blip in an abysmal public lands record going back to when Daines was a congressman, a record that includes voting twice – on the same day no less – against reauthorizing LWCF. Not until he was publicly held accountable for those 2015 LWCF votes did he eventually come around to supporting the program.

Here’s are a few other examples demonstrating just how much Daines lives and breathes public land protection:

During his first month as senator in 2015, he voted for an amendment that would have stripped protection from 17 million acres of public lands, including more than 600,000 acres in Montana, that are designated as wilderness study areas or have been recommended for wilderness protection.

On March 26, 2015, Daines cast the deciding vote in favor of an amendment that would have enabled the sale, transfer, or exchange of lands in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, and all other wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national forests, and conservation lands in the U.S.

In late 2017, Daines introduced a bill that would have stripped protection from five wilderness study areas in western and central Montana, comprising nearly 500,000 acres of public lands. He did this without first gathering any input from the public who have a stake in these WSAs.

In November 2019, he said he would support the nomination of William Perry Pendley as director of the Bureau of Land Management, even though Pendley has explicitly advocated that the U.S. sell off public lands.

Daines was absolutely right when he stated in his June 9 Senate floor speech that nothing pulls Montanans together like protection of public lands. He should know, given that 89% of Montanans are united against his bill stripping protection from wilderness study areas. That’s according to the 2020 bipartisan University of Montana Public Lands Survey, which showed that a mere 8% of Montanans support that same bill.

The survey also found that 75% of Montanans support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, a bill that would enlarge the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas by 80,000 acres and permanently protect four tributaries that are crucial for maintaining the good health of the Blackfoot River and its westslope cutthroat and bull trout populations.

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Daines could have ensured that the BCSA passed through the committee and been included in a public lands package that Congress passed in early 2019. But Daines refused then, and refuses now, to support the bill for reasons he’s never publically articulated.

He did, however, support the several wilderness bills that ended up in the package, including one that designated over 650,000 acres in Utah. So while Utah and three other states got more than a million acres of new Wilderness, Montana got no new acres, which is travesty considering that less than 4% of Montana’s land mass is designated as Wilderness – even though it is the third largest and arguably the wildest state in the Lower 48.

Daines may live and breathe public land protection, but whatever protection he has in mind really is theoretical, or is happening in states not named Montana.

A resident of Miles City, Karen Aspevig Stevenson is a longtime conservationist and Montana Wilderness Association volunteer. Kathy Hundley is a longtime conservationists and a substitute schoolteacher who lives in Darby. A lifelong hunter and resident of Anaconda, Chris Marchion was inducted into the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame in 2015 for the work he’s done to ensure that wildlife flourish in Montana.