Oped by State Sen. Frank Smith (MT)

The people of Montana maintain a special relationship with our environment that transcends ideology, party, and socio-economic station. It’s a part of our soul.

Soon after President Theodore Roosevelt established approximately 230 million acres of national forests and parks, wildlife reserves and 18 national monuments he said, “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land, but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) continues his legacy. Created 52 years ago it protects our public lands with conservation and recreation purposes.

But during the government shutdown the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rolled out a welcome mat for the oil and gas industry, while breaking multiple federal laws. President Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, used the shutdown to ignore laws that protect our air, water, wildlife and public lands.

Bernhardt, is an ex- oil lobbyist with deep ties to corporate polluters.

In a year and a half, Bernhardt has made his mark on public lands by reversing key Obama-era climate change policies, and more recently, prioritizing oil and gas drilling at the expense of furloughed government employees.

He has a solid track record of doing favors for his industry friends at our expense. Bernhardt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry are so numerous, he is rumored to have to carry a card with him to keep track of his potential conflicts of interest.

Bernhardt’s has too many conflicts of interest and his recent deeds clearly show his loyalties are not with the American public.

Our National Parks lost an estimated $400,000 a day in entrance fees. Before the shutdown the park service already had a massive $11 billion maintenance backlog. LWCF will be needed to help our parks recover from the shutdown and to diminish their maintenance backlog.

Montana has received approximately $602.4 million in LWCF funding over the past five decades, protecting places such as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Rocky Mountain Front, Glacier National Park. LWCF state assistance grants have supported hundreds of projects across our state and local parks including Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Lone Pine State Park in Flathead County and hundreds of fishing access sites.

Montana’s outdoor recreation generates $7.1 billion annually in consumer spending, and supports 71,000 jobs. The U.S. Census reports that over 950,000 people hunt, fish or watch wildlife in Montana each year, spending over $1.1 billion.

Within Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front and Blackfoot River Watershed, conservation easements – largely funded by LWCF through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are being used to conserve thousands of acres and maintain the regions ranching history.

LWCF is about doing what’s right for the land – conserving acres, preventing development, creating wide open spaces, and leaving habitat for wildlife, predators, and ranchers. Over $4.2 billion has been made available to state and local governments to fund more than 43,000 conservation projects throughout the U.S. from the LWCF, since 1965.

America’s public lands are national treasures and must be managed with care. One of the rights we veterans fought for is the freedom of access for all Americans to our public lands. It is our duty to stand up for future generations.

That’s why I stand with the Elected Officials to Protect America’s Lands. We are the only group of serving elected officials who are also veterans, dedicated to preserving and protecting America’s public lands for all. By doing so we are continuing the Constitutional vows, we take as veterans and elected officials, to preserve and protect our nation.

Last summer, 80 of us, signed and sent a letter to the Interior Secretary in support of reauthorizing the LWCF. A week after we held congressional meetings with senators on Capitol Hill the LWCF funding bill, that had been languishing in committee, was approved. Recently the Senate passed sweeping conservation legislation which included LWCF funding. Now it’s the law of the land.

We understand stewardship of our public lands is something to fight for because we’ve experienced what happens when they are abused.

No one has the right to rob generations of their right to recreate in our public lands.

If we don’t stand behind our natural resources, we risk losing them forever. Please join me to stop Bernhardt become the Sec. of the Interior, so future generations will be able exercise their right to recreate in our public lands which embody American’s soul.