Sunday, November 13, 2011

What's at stake

There’s a couple hundred head of elk in the adjacent picture of the Walling Reef. The elk are scattered throughout the timber, keeping their heads down and out of the wind. There are wolves, grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, mule deer, sharp-tail grouse, whitetail deer and a host of other critters who will always have a place to call their own. It is wild land. No oil well or subdivision will be placed here. This is one of the places where I hunt for elk and deer. This is where a third-generation rancher raises his beef. This is where the wild things are, and it’s a damned good thing that it’s still around.

This ranch, and many others like it, has some level of conservation easement on them brought to you by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In fact, the LWCF is one of the hunter’s best friends. Right now, people are hunting on lands opened up by LWCF outside of Troy, Kalispell, Seeley Lake, Missoula and Trout Creek. LWCF provided conservation easements on critical elk winter grounds on the Rocky Mountain Front, and LWCF helped pay for new city parks as well as fishing access sites around Montana.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is funded through offshore oil and gas leasing. Right now, that funding stream is being threatened in congress by some short-sighted individuals. Montana’s Senate delegation has been fighting to return funding to an appropriate level, and they’ve had some success in getting $350 million put back into the Senate Interior appropriation bill. Senator Tester has introduced an amendment that would permanently place a 1.5% Access component on the LWCF. That means that 1.5% of the total funds put into LWCF are to help generate public access to public lands.

Those who are still pushing for cuts to this revenue generating fund are citing the need to balance the budget. We agree that the budget needs to be balanced, and so $350 million looks okay to us for the short term. That’s not good enough for some who have consistently tried to take away the public’s ability to fully enjoy its land. There are those in congress who would work to take away our public lands; sell them to the highest bidder, or place short term economic goals over the needs of the land for the long term. There are those who continue to sell a false dichotomy of jobs versus conservation. All one has to do is look back and see the increasingly clear parallel between 1911 and 2011 when it comes to battles faced.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is in some real trouble. People are being forced to make a false choice. The idea that conservation isn’t conservative, or that it protected landscapes aren’t fiscally viable has been proven false time and time again. Yet here we are, 100 years after Theodore Roosevelt came back from Africa to set America back on its conservation course..

LWCF deserves full funding. If we need to take a few more years to get there, so be it. Until then, $350 million sounds like a fair compromise.

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