By Deb Courson Smith
The U.S. House is set to make a budget decision this week that could mean less money for Montana recreation and tourism projects. The Interior Department budget bill “de-funds” the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), bringing it to its lowest level ever.
Land Tawney, president of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers in Missoula, says it’s important to understand the connection between that funding and state economics. Almost $345 million has come to Montana from the fund over the years for projects such as hunting and fishing access on the Rocky Mountain Front, and in the Gallatin and Flathead National Forests.
“I think it’s even bigger than just the hunting and fishing community. I mean, you look at a poll that was done last year here in Montana, and 72 percent of the people supported full funding. So, full funding at 900 million.”
The House funding plan is for $61 million, and Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg voted in favor of it last week. The LWCF is not tied to taxpayer dollars; the money comes from a small percentage of fees from offshore oil and gas drilling.
Billings Rod and Gun Club president Irv Wilke says his organization has just signed a letter to Rep. Rehberg, along with Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, opposing the funding cut. Wilke says an access project along Tenderfoot Creek would likely be put on hold, and that project has been in the works for several years.
“It’s about time for outdoorsmen of Montana to get adequate funding to maintain the hunting and fishing access sites that drive a lot of our state’s economy.”
16 hunting and angling groups have signed the letter to Congressman Rehberg.