A major win for conservation

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Fifty-four years — that’s how long the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been around. Since its inception in 1965 it’s been one of the most popular and effective bipartisan programs Congress has ever created.

More than 42,000 state and local conservation projects throughout the country have been completed during that time. Using zero taxpayer dollars, the fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to help strengthen communities, preserve history and protect lands and waters.

With such rousing support and success, it took many by surprise last year when it looked like Congress was poised not to reauthorize the federal fund. Thankfully, lawmakers rolled up their sleeves on both sides of the aisle last week to pass the largest public lands bill in more than a decade.

Now all that’s left is a signature from President Trump.

Montanans no doubt are among those cheering the loudest for this wide-ranging bill that revives the conservation program, adds 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, expands several national parks and creates five new national monuments. In our Big Sky State, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has invested more than $579 million to protect Montana’s open spaces, historic sites, and has increased recreational access.

An important caveat of the new bill is that it permanently reauthorizes the federal fund. We agree with Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, when he stated the bill “truly gives the American people something to be excited about.”

Bipartisan support of the bill was shown by Montana’s congressional delegation, with both Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester favoring it, along with Rep. Greg Gianforte.

Another win for Montana this week was passage of the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act that will permanently withdraw federal mineral rights on about 30,000 acres of the Gallatin National Forest and prevent proposed mines from expanding onto unclaimed public land next to Yellowstone National Park.

It isn’t only Montanans who treasure their land and water resources. The Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization is a huge win for conservation across the U.S., from sea to shining sea — and all of the purple mountain majesties and fruited plains in between.

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