Land and Water Conservation Fund Falls Short Again, Senators Still Hopeful

LWCF creates opportunities for IMBA Epics like the Monarch Crest. Photo: Greg Heil.

A public lands bill that would have re-authorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) stalled in the Senate on December 19, delaying funds that affect public land conservation and have helped create mountain bike trails and eight IMBA Epics.

The LWCF expired September 30, and about $2.5M towards public lands and conservation is lost per day. The fund is generated from fees that are charged to offshore oil and gas drilling companies.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak) asked that the bi-partisan bill be approved unanimously, but Sen. Mike Lee (R-Ut) objected to the language of the bill.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Ut). Official photo via www.lee.senate.gov.

Lee stated his frustration with the 680-page bill that was presented before the Senate that morning, and although he said he wanted to support it, he asked that the language be changed to exempt Utah from certain cases. Lee pointed out that Wyoming and Alaska both have exemptions in the act.

“Coming from a state where we’ve had about 2 million acres of Federal land declared as monuments through presidential proclamations, this hurts. I’ve made what I consider a very reasonable offer and I ask that it be accepted,” said Lee. “If the words “or Utah” are added, I will wholeheartedly support it. If not, I will continue to oppose it.”

Lee says that far too much of Utah’s land is already under federal control, which makes state land management a challenge.

“Bad federal land management policy is at the root of this,” he said.

Dave Wiens, the executive director of IMBA replied to Lee’s decision in a statement on December 21.

“Many senators and representatives worked tirelessly at this last opportunity to pass a bipartisan public lands package of common sense bills including permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). However, this package was never voted on due to the efforts of Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is no friend of public lands.”

Mountain bikers may recognize Lee’s name as the sponsor of S.2877, the Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Act, a bill that would revert the bike ban in Wilderness to a conditional allowance, which is what the rules once were. The Sustainable Trails Coalition has worked with Lee to get the bill re-introduced into the Senate earlier this year.

“The reason that we’re fighting for permanent re-authorization of the LWCF is because of what happened here tonight,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mt). “The uncertainty of this institution, where 98 senators can say “let’s move ahead for a vote,” and two senators say “no” and we weren’t able to have a vote tonight.”

Daines was confident that if the public lands bill passed the Senate it would have ultimately moved to President Trump’s desk, and he would’ve signed it.

Despite the holdup, it’s clear that there is still strong bi-partisan support for the re-authorization of the LWCF.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R. Ak). Official photo via www.murkowski.senate.gov.

“My colleague has asked for a simple two words [to be added]. I understand that we don’t have that consent [to move the bill forward]. What we have come to this evening that there is a desire from this body to move this package through,” said Murkowski.

Murkowski seemed to understand the dilemmas presented by the hinderance of LWCF and how it affects outdoor opportunities and said that the issue will remain a priority.

“We will be back in the first of the year and we will continue to address these issues that are so important when it comes to our public lands and our waters, our conservation priorities, and the priorities of our sports men and women,” said Murkowski. “The leader has committed and the minority leader has committed that when we return in January this will be, if not the first order of business, a matter that will be before this body in the first couple weeks.”

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