Land & Water Conservation Fund: Protesters pressure Daines for full funding

Montana Conservation Voters helped organize Monday’s rally supporting full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current)

Outdoor recreation is one of Montana’s leading economies, so some Missoulians want Sen. Steve Daines do more for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

On Monday, more than two dozen people rallied in front of the DoubleTree Hotel, anticipating Daines’ arrival at City Club Missoula, where he defended his voting record on several conservation issues.

The rally-goers wanted to make sure Daines knew they wanted him to support full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. So they donned white T-shirts saying “Two-thirds isn’t enough” and “#FundLWCF” and waved signs with the same message at vehicles arriving for the luncheon. 

“Sen. Daines has really not been accessible to Montanans,” said Aaron Murphy, Montana Conservation Voters executive director. “He has very well-planned events that limit access. Even this event. If anyone tells you it’s a public event, I’d say, ‘Yeah, but you gotta pay $21 to have lunch inside.’ So that’s the unfortunate part. We want to make sure he sees this.”

Daines drove past at 11:30 a.m., but didn’t acknowledge the LWCF supporters.

Whitney Tawney, Montana Conservation Voters deputy director, bounced her 16-month-old son, Henry, as she brandished a sign at Daines’ car.

“It’s all about what we’re doing for the next generation. How are we going to do that without being able to pay for it?” Tawney said. “Two-thirds isn’t going to get us there.”

Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964 to collect royalties from offshore drilling operations and turn the money into public parks and public land.

Montana has benefitted hugely from the LWCF, receiving more than $540 million since the fund was established. For example, LWCF dollars helped secure open space on Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel and helped develop five of the eight fishing access sites along the Bitterroot River. LWCF money also helped buy Plum Creek Timber Co. land in the Seeley-Swan Valley that became national forest land as part of the Legacy Project.

That’s why Bill Geer was out on the street, representing Hellgate Hunters and Anglers.

“I spent a 40-year career in fish and wildlife, benefitting from these funds on land deals in Utah and here in Montana,” Geer said. “When I look at critical habitat for fish and wildlife species, often the focus of a LWCF acquisition is partly based on that, where the species need help and there’s a source of funding. And it’s for recreation. Parks at almost every level benefit from LWCF.”

Whitney Tawney, Montana Conservation Voters deputy director, bounced her 16-month-old son, Henry, as she brandished a sign at Daines’ car. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current)

Missoula legislator Marilyn Marler also joined the rally, holding a sign opposing the appointment of William Perry Pendley as co-director of the Bureau of Land Management. 

“I’m here to support LWCF funding, and this I see as an associated issue. There are so many issues to choose from,” Marler said. “I’m lobbying Sen. Daines – he gets a lot of mail from me.”

In 2015, 50 years after it was created, the LWCF was scheduled to sunset and looked like it was headed for the dustbin. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., proposed a rider to a defense-spending bill that would have made the LWCF permanent. But it failed to pass on a 49-51 vote. Daines was one of the “no” votes.

However, Congress voted to keep the fund alive year-to-year until early this year, when it was finally made permanent in a public lands omnibus bill. 

The LWCF is supposed to receive up to $900 million annually, but Congress has never appropriated the full amount. Instead, politicians have siphoned funds away to pay for other programs. 

The maximum amount allocated was a little more than $300 million, and between 2010 and 2017, Congress authorized less than $1 million per year.

This May, Daines, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, wrote a letter to the committee asking that $600 million be appropriated for the LWCF.

Murphpy said Daines didn’t go far enough.

“That’s the sticking point – two-thirds isn’t enough,” Murphy said. “In April, he said he supports full funding, so we’re asking why the discrepancy. We’re saying, ‘You don’t get to just say nice things about the LWCF – we’re asking you to show the courage to flex some muscle and get it done.’ ”

Montana Conservation Voters, Forward Montana and MontPIRG organized the rally.