If a budget is a statement of values, President Trump’s recently released budget shows that public lands and our outdoor economy are not a priority.
If approved by Congress, the administration’s budget threatens all we hold dear here in Montana, by implementing devastating cuts to the programs and policies that protect our outdoor way of life. Healthy air and clean water would be at risk with an EPA reduction of 34 percent. Severe cuts to the already hamstrung national park budget, and less funding for the currently-tapped Forest Service would be devastating for the lands those agencies manage.
Most shocking is the decimation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would be slashed to just $8 million – a 98 percent decrease from the $400 million earmarked in Fiscal Year 2017, and less than 1 percent of the maximum annual allowance of $900 million. LWCF has been heralded as one of the most successful conservation programs of our time. Montana is one of the biggest recipients of LWCF dollars each year, with $237.6 million invested from 2005-2014. With 70 percent of Montana businesses stating that access to public land and quality recreation is the reason they are based in Montana, a severe cut to LWCF will have huge impacts on our economy.
Nearly three quarters of Montana’s fishing access sites have been funded by LWCF funds. Montanans fish for pleasure and for our livelihoods. We hike, we hunt, we enjoy the public lands throughout our state. We treasure our national parks and forests, and we depend on the programs and land management agencies that protect the access to our rivers, and the access to our favorite places, afforded largely by LWCF funds.
For those of us who have chosen to do business here in Montana because of the 94 million acres of national forests, over 300 public fishing access sites, and the millions of acres of urban and backcountry trails, this budget proposal is, at best, difficult to swallow.
Over the past 12 months, Montanans have watched as Forest Service employees and wildland fire fighters struggled to find adequate funding to battle one of the most devastating fire seasons in years. Montana alone saw 438,000 acres burn. Instead of creating solutions for the Forest Service’s already strapped budget, Trump’s budget proposal makes it even harder to fund wildfire mitigation work and the important day-to-day activities of trail maintenance, campground upkeep, proactive forest restoration, and road maintenance – all key to our $7.1 billion outdoor economy
Equally alarming is a 7 percent budget cut to the National Park Service, an agency operating under a $12 billion maintenance backlog. Yellowstone National Park brought in $680.3 million in consumer spending in 2016 to its surrounding local economies. Glacier National Park’s bordering communities saw $250.8 million in consumer spending that same year. These national parks are economic anchors for our gateway communities.
The prospect of new forest restoration projects, improved trail systems, increased river access, or community playgrounds in Montana become zero with this proposed budget. A program like LWCF – that utilizes revenues from offshore oil and gas exploration and doesn’t cost taxpayers a penny – should be a no-brainer for either side of the political aisle in Washington, D.C.
Montana businesses and communities across the state are scratching our heads. This proposed budget disregards our businesses and our way of life through severe underfunding and unprecedented cuts to all we hold dear here in Montana.
Our decision makers should demand more for our natural resources. In 2015, Ryan Zinke (now Interior secretary) was quoted as saying, “Congress has made a lot of promises to future generations; let’s not make the LWCF another broken promise.” Our delegation must reject this budget, and encourage others in Congress to stand up for public lands and waters. Montana businesses and livelihoods depend upon it.