In Montana, at least, all the ballots have been counted and all the 2018 elections resolved. If voter turnout numbers are any indication, folks across Montana were keen on making their voices heard, and are now eager for our elected officials to get back to the vital work of legislating. We extend hearty congratulations to Senator Tester and Representative Gianforte for their victories.
As our Montana Congressional Delegation heads into the final weeks of the lame duck session of Congress before adjourning for the year, we are grateful the Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of their top priorities. For most Montanans, the programís expiration in September cast an unwelcome shadow of uncertainty across recreational businesses, agricultural producers, the timber industry, hunters, anglers and others who enjoy outdoor recreation.
Politics and elections may divide us, but the LWCF and Montana outdoor recreation unite us. Montana embodies outdoor experiences, and the LWCF enables the opportunities that help make those experiences so remarkable.
WCF needs to be reauthorized and funded. The lame duck session provides a tremendous opportunity to right the wrong of expiration and permanently reauthorize the program with permanent, dedicated funding. This reauthorization and funding is an absolute priority for our congressional delegation and should be for the entire US Congress.
Most Montanans know the story and numbers: the LWCF has been a cornerstone of our outdoor heritage for decades. In a single span from 2005 to 2014, LWCF invested more than $240 million into Montanaís economy. That investment directly impacted our $7.1 billion recreation economy. Access for sportsmen, hikers, bird watchers, mountain bikers, skiers, climbers, fishermen and others equates to dollars spent in Montanaís restaurants, gas stations, hotels, gear shops and more.
Recreation isnít the only recipient of LWCF funding. Between 2000 and 2017, LWCF has promoted healthy forests and supported the 7, 500 wood products jobs in Montana with a $73 million investment in the Forest Legacy Program.
The LWCF has also enabled ranchers and farmers to preserve open spaces, create wildlife habitat, keep farm and ranch operations within family hands and even provides opportunity to expand operations. Conservation easements are a vital tool for ensuring Montanaís agricultural heritage survives and flourishes for the next generation.
We in Montana are fortunate to have some of the best LWCF opportunities in the nation. Montana needs our entire delegation now more than ever. Montana needs their leadership, commitment and determination to help reauthorize and provide dedicated permanent funding for the most valuable conservation and outdoor recreation program in Americaís history.
Great things happen when our delegation works together. Letís unite to find a permanent, lasting solution for LWCF before the end of 2018 and start 2019 with a positive certainty that now and in the future this great program will continue to provide outdoor recreation, economic, forest health and conservation benefits for everyone.
Mary Hollow is executive director of Prickly Pear Land Trust, Mark Aagenes is director of external affairs for The Nature Conservancy in Montana, Mark Lambrecht is government affairs director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Glenn Marx is executive director for the Montana Association of Land Trusts, and Dick Dolan is the Northern Rockies director for The Trust for Public Land.