Float with Senator Baucus highlights importance of Land and Water Conservation Fund
It’s not every day that you get to float down a river with a United States senator. So when American Rivers was invited to join Montana Senator Max Baucus and a flotilla of recreationists on the Madison River to draw attention to the need to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), we jumped at the chance. Little did I know that Senator Baucus would be in the front of my raft.
Rowing Senator Baucus down the river offered a rare opportunity to talk about our mutual love for Montana and his deep desire to leave a strong conservation legacy before he leaves office after the 2014 election. The Senator – or Max, as everyone in Montana calls him – spoke about the first conservation legislation he ever sponsored as a freshman congressman in 1976 – a bill to grant Wild and Scenic designation to the three forks of the upper Flathead River near Glacier National Park as well as a 150-mile reach of the upper Missouri River.
He spoke with a sense of urgency about his two highest conservation priorities before he retires from the Senate – winning congressional passage of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which would permanently ban all new mining and energy development in the North Fork of the Flathead River watershed, and the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, which would grant protections to 275,000 acres of America’s most spectacular lands along the Rocky Mountain Front west of Great Falls.
But our float on the Madison River was meant to highlight a federal program that has done more to provide public access and conserve special landscapes across the nation than perhaps any other program.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created by an act of Congress in 1965 to provide funds and matching grants to federal, state and local governments for the acquisition of land and water, and easements on land and water, for the benefit of all Americans. LWCF funds, which Congress originally authorized at $900 million annually, come from offshore oil drilling receipts. No tax dollars are used to pay for it, so it’s a bargain for the American people, especially considering that it generates four dollars in economic return for every dollar spent.
Here in Montana, we’ve benefited immeasurably from the LWCF. For example, nearly 70 percent of Montana’s fishing access sites were created using LWCF funds. If you’re a resident of Montana who fishes, hunts or paddles, you benefit from the LWCF. If you’re one of the 10.9 million visitors who come to Montana each year, the LWCF benefits you, too. And if you’re a business owner who captures some of the $9 million that non-resident travelers spend in Montana every day, you, too, owe the LWCF a debt of gratitude.
Sadly, Congress has rarely authorized full funding of the LWCF. In fact, over its history, Congress has raided $17 billion from the LWCF for unrelated spending. The bad news is that if Congress doesn’t act soon, the LWCF is set to expire at the end of 2014.
Fortunately, Senator Baucus and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) have introduced S. 338, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Authorization and Funding Act of 2013, which would permanently and fully fund the LWCF so future generations can reap the enormous benefits it has provided for Montanans and all Americans for almost five decades. Please contact your senator and representative and urge them to support this vital legislation.