On a day that has already seen a historic win for our public lands, the news got even better when the House passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) this afternoon by a 310-107 vote.
The bill, which the Senate overwhelmingly passed back in June, now moves to the president’s desk.
This is a tremendous victory for public lands in Montana and across the country. Most notably, the bill will provide full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of our nation’s most critical conservation programs. LWCF has been essential to hundreds of public lands projects across Montana, including the acquisition and development of numerous state parks, the construction and maintenance of public trail systems, and the development of boat ramps, campgrounds, and fishing access sites. The fund, which disburses royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling, has contributed over $600 million to Montana projects in its 55-year existence. The bill will also provide some $9 billion to address the maintenance backlog facing our national public lands.
They are proposing to acquire two properties totaling about 23 acres using Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF). The parcels are along the section of the Polebridge Loop Road between the Polebridge Mercantile and the entrance to Glacier National Park. The acquisition would connect adjacent public lands managed by the Flathead National Forest along the designated Wild and Scenic corridor of the North Fork Flathead River.
The owners of both properties are willing sellers who wish to protect their lands from further development. (There are rumors that one potential buyer wanted to build an RV park.)
Also note that he Pacific Northwest Trail runs along the Polebridge Loop Road after the trail emerges from Glacier Park. Hikers sharing the road with motorized traffic, especially during tourist season, is less than ideal. Acquiring the Glacier Gateway parcels makes it easier for the Forest Service to achieve its eventual goal of a separate trail parallel to the road.
Here’s the deal: Vital Ground and the Forest Service are hoping to get individuals and organizations to send in letters of support for this proposal *by the end of the month.*
Want to read more? Here are the project documents:
NOTE: Even though the sample letter is addressed to Leanne Marten, the USFS Regional Forester, please send letters of support (by email preferably) to Mitch Doherty at the Vital Ground Foundation so that he can scan them and include them with the application submission. Here is Mitch’s contact information:
Conservation Program Manager
Vital Ground Foundation
20 Fort Missoula Rd 59804-7202
The U.S. Senate passed a significant new public lands bill . . .
The Senate passed an omnibus public lands bill on a vote of 92-8 on Tuesday, allowing permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and blocking a proposed gold mine on the edge of Yellowstone National Park.
“Everybody is crying,” said Chico Hot Springs owner Colin Davis, who led a coalition of 400 Paradise Valley businesses supporting the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act. “It’s been a long couple years.”
Davis was on a conference call with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, as the vote tally was coming down Tuesday afternoon. Montana’s Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte also backed the Yellowstone Gateway and LWCF measures.
The Flathead Beacon has posted a couple of excellent, well-reasoned op-eds over the past week.
The first, by Jim McCormack, titled “What Happened to the Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist?“ takes Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to task for gutting the Land and Water Conservation Fund .
The second, “Montanans Want a Say on the Future of Our Wild Public Lands“ by Connie and Mack Long, has some pointed and reasonable things to say about the importance of public involvement when making broad decisions about public lands.
The Flathead Beacon has a good article on conservation project funding in the valley . . .
A slate of conservation projects are nearing completion or recently came to fruition in the Flathead Valley, underscoring the importance of private donations and a federal program that funds a suite of conservation projects, including land acquisition and grants to state and local entities for everything from conservation easements to municipal parks.
Recently, the Land and Water Conservation Fund helped complete the next phase of a 13,400-acre conservation easement northwest of Whitefish Lake, providing $2 million for the final piece of the multi-phased Whitefish Lake Watershed Project, which helps protect wildlife, promote timber production, and allow public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor pursuits.
The conservation and recreation community has praised the easement because it protects critical fish and wildlife habitat and provides continued public access for outdoor recreation, while also securing the city of Whitefish’s water supply, 20 percent of which is drawn from Whitefish Lake.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was at Hauser Lake near Helena last Tuesday, talking about public lands and funding. Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this one . . .
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke to a crowd of public land employees and conservationists at Hauser Lake northeast of here Tuesday to promote public land and full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, raise awareness about the outdoors economy and unveil new funding for youth in conservation.
Speaking to the media afterward, she commented on the recent takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon, the cancellation of an oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area earlier this year and her decision not to visit coal-dependent communities in southeastern Montana.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who traveled with Jewell, said Devil’s Elbow at Hauser Lake, a Bureau of Land Management campground, was a befitting place for the discussion because it has benefited from LWCF money in the past.
Well, now… we’ve got some bipartisan action on energy, as well as on the Land and Water Conservation Fund . . .
In a show of bipartisan collaboration, the U.S. Senate passed a sweeping bill that reforms many of the nation’s energy policies and boosts research and development of new technology, including so-called clean coal, while also making strides for environmental conservation, including the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The bill, passed April 20 with an 85-12 vote, will try to mesh with similar House legislation and, if signed into law by President Obama, would be the nation’s first major energy reform in nine years.
Looks like the Trumbull Creek land deal is a go . . .
A large land conservation deal northwest of Columbia Falls will benefit from passage of the Land, Water and Conservation Fund.
The fund uses off shore oil and gas lease revenue for conservation projects across the U.S. Congress extended the measure for three years when it passed a massive budget bill just before the holidays. Nationwide, Congress appropriated about $450 million to the fund.
Montana’s largest LWCF project this year is the Trumbull Creek conservation easement with F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. The Trumbull Creek easement is a $9.5 million deal, with $6.5 million from the Forest Legacy program, $2 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Habitat Conservation Plan program and $1 million from private donations.
Reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund made it into the pending omnibus spending bill, but the ‘fire-borrowing’ fix for funding large wildfires did not. The wildfire measure was tied to a set of logging measures that raised opposition on both sides of the aisle . . .
Proposals to speed up logging projects apparently killed chances for fixing the U.S. Forest Service’s “fire borrowing” problem as Congress moved an omnibus budget bill toward passage Wednesday.
The 2,009-page bill does include re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was a bipartisan goal of Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines, Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. But the Montana delegation’s push for categorical exemptions and expedited approvals of logging projects ran into opposition from both national environmental groups and Senate Republican leadership.
Both Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., opposed including the Forest Wildfire Funding and Forest Management amendment that was backed by a large coalition of logging, recreation and conservation groups as well as members of Congress from both parties and the Agriculture Department.
Montana state and federal political leaders are getting worried about the possible expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund . . .
Montana’s top political officials are all declaring support for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund as it nears a possible expiration in September.
Both Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester released announcements this week about the program’s reauthorization language in the Senate’s Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015. That bill is set for committee markup next week.
Also this week, Gov. Steve Bullock wrote the entire congressional delegation with a plea to save the 50-year-old program.