Park County people are celebrating this week. Hundreds of local citizens spent the past few years pushing and pleading for the federal government to protect public lands near Yellowstone National Park's northern gateway. They finally won.
When President Donald Trump signed the biggest public lands bill in decades into law on Tuesday, he gave approval to more than 100 long-awaited measures affecting communities all over America. One of those provisions puts 30,000 acres of public lands in Park County off limits to mining forever.
The protection of federal public lands in Emigrant Gulch south of Livingston and at Crevice Mountain just outside Yellowstone's northern border near Gardiner became an urgent concern for area residents and businesses when two mining companies with foreign investors proposed to explore the development of new mines. Locals worried that large-scale mining, which would require access to publicly owned minerals, would degrade the quality of water, wildlife and landscape that their farms, outdoor recreation and tourism businesses rely on.
The Yellowstone Gateway defenders stayed focused on their issue, traveled to Washington, D.C., and brought two secretaries of U.S. Interior (Sally Jewel and Ryan Zinke) to Paradise Valley. They garnered bipartisan support locally and in Congress where Montana's entire delegation (Jon Tester, Greg Gianforte and Steve Daines) supported the legislation. As the gateway partners rejoice in the new law they helped to create, we salute their determination to make government work for Montanans.
An important provision of the new public lands law restores the Land Water Conservation Fund that congressional inaction allowed to lapse last fall. The new law makes the LWCF permanent, so it won't expire again. Tester, Daines and Gianforte all have expressed strong support for this program. LWCF has invested more than $540 million to support Montana’s outdoor recreation economy since it was established in 1965.
In a press release heralding the new law, Gianforte said: "I’ll continue working with Montanans to improve public access to our public lands and protect our Montana way of life.”
“What a great day for Montana, a great day for America,” Daines said after attending the White House signing ceremony.
The new law is a great achievement in a typically gridlocked Congress. But the president signed this law the day after his new 2020 budget blueprint showed the low priority he assigns to public lands. Trump's budget would slash LWCF funding. His 2019 budget proposal also called for nearly zeroing out funding for LWCF.
Congress won't pass Trump's budget as he presented it. But the budget shows the president's priorities. Clearly he doesn't place the importance on public lands that was demonstrated by Montanans and other citizens who advocated for years to sustain and fully fund LWCF.
As Tester said in a press release after the land bill signing: “It is easy to understand why folks hate Washington when politicians cheer on the president as he signs a bill to authorize LWCF just one day after trying to gut its funding. I hope the president’s cheerleaders put money where their mouth is and fully fund this critical conservation initiative.”
The hard work of protecting public lands must continue in Montana and everywhere Americans care about our national heritage.