By Deb Courson Smith

Hunting and fishing access on public lands would be boosted in Montana and elsewhere in the nation under a bill re-introduced by Sen. Max Baucus. It would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund – a pot of money established by Congress decades ago as a way to share revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling around the country.

Sen. Jon Tester added a provision that dedicates 1.5 percent of the fund for enhancing wildlife-oriented access on public lands. John Gibson, president of the Public Land and Water Access Association, says that money would be perfect for a project near the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

“There’s an opportunity there to consolidate a lot of federal land and improve access to the Tenderfoot drainage, the Smith drainage and the mountains around it that are very good wildlife habitat.”

Irv Wilke, president of the Billings Rod and Gun Club, says last year only about $300 million went into the fund. He thinks it’s about time the full amount was allocated.

“Speaking as someone who represents many hunters and anglers who benefit from the access to public lands, Sen. Baucus’s bill to fully fund LWCF is a breath of fresh air.”

The fund’s $900 million a year is not from a tax increase, but often the money originally designated by Congress for the fund is sent elsewhere, especially in tough budget times.

The bill, S. 1265, is available at: thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas.