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Grizzly bears converge on Avalanche Lake, trigger trail closure in Glacier Park

Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park

As a military veteran, I sometimes reflect on my service years ago and how I can continue to serve my country today. Back when I was in uniform, my job was to ensure effective and timely communications to and from the U.S. fleet off the coast of Southeast Asia. As my active duty came to an end, a good friend and I planned an extended hiking trip to wilderness areas in the western U.S. Looking back, that experience was therapeutic. Hiking in solitude surrounded by mountains, following and fishing rivers and streams allowed me time to transition to the challenges of civilian life.

Today our country is facing some big challenges, but one thing we should all be proud of is the legacy of public lands we will hand off to the next generation. As citizens, we all have a duty to stand up and fight to sustain and improve public access to our public lands.

I’m writing to call attention to a budget fight that should matter to everyone who loves to hunt, fish, or hike on Montana’s public lands: the current fight over funding for The Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF is the most successful conservation and recreation program in our nation’s history. It has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since its inception in 1964. That broad support is why I was surprised and disappointed the President proposed a budget for 2019 that virtually eliminates LWCF. We need our whole delegation in Washington, D.C., to raise hell and make sure the funding for LWCF is restored.

Even if you haven’t heard of the LWCF, if you like to hunt, fish, or hike on public lands in and around the Flathead, there’s a good chance you’ve benefited from it. Nearly three-quarters of the fishing access sites across Montana were created with LWCF dollars. At a time where it’s getting harder to find good public access for hunting, LWCF provided tens of millions of dollars to transfer former Plum Creek Timber lands in the Swan Valley to the Lolo and Flathead National Forests, guaranteeing public access for generations.

Montana’s recreation economy is huge — now valued at $7.1 billion and provides for 71,000 jobs — and the LWCF has been a big part of that economic growth. From 2004-2015 alone, $237.6 million LWCF dollars were invested in Montana. It is time to invest more for access to public lands — not less.

Here’s the real kicker: LWCF doesn’t cost taxpayers one penny. The LWCF utilizes revenue from offshore oil and gas exploration and reinvests those funds in conservation and recreation projects nationwide.

The LWCF has long had the support of our entire congressional delegation. As a congressman representing Montana, now Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke was an ardent supporter of the program. Sen. Jon Tester has long been Montana’s leading champion on the LWCF. And Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte have expressed support for the program.

As Secretary of the Interior, Zinke has a critical voice in restoring LWCF funding. As a military veteran living in the Flathead Valley, I’d like to respectfully convey a message to another military veteran from the Flathead Valley.

Mr. Secretary — please to stand up and fight to restore full and permanent funding for the LWCF. Those of us who love our public lands are counting on you and Congress to do the right thing. Please remember that we owe it to our grandchildren to protect our proud legacy of public access to public lands.

Ed Lieser, of Whitefish is a former state legislator and a member of Montanans for National Security. On Thursday, Ryan Zinke testified to a U.S. Senate committee on the Trump Administration budget that proposed to nearly eliminate the LWCF budget by cutting it to 1 percent of full funding — $8 million for the entire country for 2019.