As Montanans, we are right to be proud of our state’s outdoor heritage, and believe that it’s important to pass down our outdoor values to our kids and our grandkids. And it is our job to make sure our forests, mountains, prairies, wildlife and clean water are protected for centuries to come.

We can help do this by urging our elected officials to ensure public lands are treated as the treasures they truly are. The Land and Water Conservation Fund balances the extraction and sale of federal natural resources — offshore oil and gas — with the permanent protection of important lands and waters and access to recreation for all Americans.

Authorized in 1965, LWCF is an enduring conservation legacy that makes even greater sense today as America faces the greatest environmental disaster of our time — the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf spill is a sobering reminder of how vulnerable our public lands, waters, communities and wildlife can be.

Here in Montana, we need sustained investment to provide long-term protection of the rivers, lakes, mountains, prairies and wide open spaces so important to all of us. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created to do just that.

Designed to create and maintain local, state, and national natural resource areas, the LWCF provides funding to state and federal governments to keep the promise made to protect Montana’s special places — everything from local baseball fields to Yellowstone National Park — for future generations. LWCF-funded purchases of lands and conservation easements also help private landowners, public agencies and communities protect Montana’s natural and recreation heritage.

The LWCF can receive up to $900 million a year from energy royalties. But despite an increase in energy production, funding dedicated to protecting land and water has been low and unpredictable and often diverted elsewhere by Congress. LWCF is the only fund providing a specific conservation benefit from federal energy development. Now is the time to ensure that LWCF becomes a dedicated source, protected from being diverted to unrelated spending. One of Montana’s largest and most precious resources is its natural beauty. By funding the LWCF, we are not only creating recreational opportunities for hikers, hunters, and anglers, but also injecting tourist dollars into Montana’s economy. The LWCF has also funded the purchase of land and conservation easements that have helped private landowners, communities, and public agencies protect Montana’s agricultural and recreational heritage.

A recent poll by Zogby International shows that nearly 80 percent of Montanans support fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect our national parks and develop recreation opportunities in our state. And LWCF has already left a lasting legacy here in Montana — from protecting natural areas and setting aside wild places to creating and improving recreational facilities in urban areas.

The LWCF’s work is evident right here in Lewis and Clark County in the Helena Skyway Trail, the Swaney Trail, Lewis and Clark County Campground and the Spring Meadow Lake State Park Group-Use Shelter. LWCF has also funded parks and recreational facilities throughout the state. LWCF is instrumental in the creation of tennis courts, swimming pools, skate parks, and other types of recreational facilities and spaces.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have been champions of the outdoors by supporting full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And with their continued support, we can help ensure that Montanans will have clean places to hunt, fish and camp for generations to come. Max’s support has been especially instrumental. Max, along with Sen. Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico, introduced a bill that guarantees funding for the LWCF. This bill would “provide consistent and reliable authority for, and for the funding of, the land and water conservation fund to maximize the effectiveness of the fund for future generations, and for other purposes.” (Independent Record)

Now is the time to thank our senators for their support of the LWCF, and to urge them to continue to pursue legislation to fully fund it.

Wayne Brewster is an avid hunter and angler, retired biologist (USFWS and NPS), MWF Wildlife committee member and former deputy director of the Yellowstone Center for Resources.

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