Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke had the perfect opportunity to tell Congress that he supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but he failed. In a hearing with the House of Representatives' Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee on April 11, Secretary Zinke instead only defended his ethics, defended his plan to reorganize the Department, and defended his energy development proposals.
His only nod to the valuable Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which he once strongly supported, was pointing out that the Fund relies on revenues from oil and gas development, and is a model for how he would like to fund maintenance projects in our National Parks.
I spent my childhood roaming the wilds of Glacier National Park. I understand Secretary Zinke's personal connection to America's parks and his desire to take care of them. But maintaining our National Parks is not mutually exclusive of the urgent need to fully fund LWCF and reauthorize this historic program before it expires on Sept. 30.
Secretary Zinke's lack of advocacy for the LWCF is particularly mind blowing to Montana fishermen like me. This is because we have witnessed firsthand how this program has benefited access to our rivers and restoration of our fish habitat. The acquisition of many fishing access sites in Montana has been funded using LWCF funds.
As a lifelong Whitefish resident, I also know the benefits of LWCF extend beyond helping fisheries. Whitefish Lake, where Secretary Zinke swam as a kid, was one of the many recreation sites in Flathead County which received LWCF dollars. LWCF can even be used for indoor swimming pools and sports fields, such as track and field facilities, where Secretary Zinke ran growing up.
Secretary Zinke needs to step up to the starting line, call on Congress now to reauthorize the program before it expires this fall, and get permanent LWCF funding across the finish line.
It was disappointing to see the Secretary act defensively toward members of the recent House Interior Appropriations subcommittee when asked about his policies and priorities at Interior. Let's hope that Secretary Zinke will show more respect to Senators from his home state. As members of the Senate Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee, Steve Daines and Jon Tester should have a chance to talk to the Secretary about the FY19 proposed budget in May.
I am thankful that Montana's Congressional delegation wants to see LWCF reauthorized before it is too late. I hope during the hearing that Senators Tester and Daines will ask Secretary Zinke to put forward a plan for securing full funding and the renewal of LWCF.
Secretary Zinke strongly advocated for LWCF while representing Montanans in Congress. Has he forgotten that he still represents our interests as part of his role as Interior Secretary?
Mr. Secretary, the clock for reauthorizing LWCF is ticking down. Let's get LWCF fully funded.
Chris Schustrom is the State Council Chair of Montana Trout Unlimited. He grew up and lives in Whitefish and is co-owner of the Garden Wall Inn.