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The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses fees from offshore oil and gas development to fund national, state and local conservation, is enormously important to Montana of today -– and tomorrow. The budget-neutral program funds the acquisition of “inholdings,” or private land surrounded by federal park lands, to prevent development that could compromise the parks, impede wildlife corridors and ultimately cut off access to recreation on federal lands.

Both U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., rightly perceive that this vital fund –- which also, incidentally, funds the creation of urban parks by cities -– is vital to preserving Montana’s enormous tourist industry; to attracting people who love outdoor activity and the businesses who employ them; and to ensuring future generations of Montanans will be able to enjoy outdoor recreation as we do.

Without Congressional action, the fund will expire as of Thursday. A majority of Senators have declared support for permanent reauthorization of the fund. So have many in the House, Democrats and Republicans alike.

But in Congress today, as we’ve seen time and again, the zealots and crazies are running the institution.

Comes now Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the new chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. (Hens, say hi to the new security guard, Mr. Wolf). Rep Bishop says he thinks the money would be much better used to “pay for the education of future American energy-industry workers.”

“There’s no way in hell I am going to allow” Congress to “spend that … to expand the footprint of the federal government,” Bishop has said.

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Just why Rep. Bishop and his ilk should be in position to not “allow” the majority of Congress to exercise its will on this issue is the problem in a nutshell.

The Republican leadership in both houses of Congress is afraid of its own shadow – that shadow being the lunatic fringe of the party. Far easier to capitulate on an issue like this one than to risk yet another Tea Party tantrum.

Do we really want franchise fast-food and motels overlooking Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg? Do we really want trophy homes popping up in the middle of Grand Teton or Yellowstone or Glacier – or the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest – with access to recreation blocked by private roads?

To their credit, Sens. Tester and Daines are doing what they can. Tester has prepared a reauthorization measure that he is vowing to attach to any “must-pass” legislation he can. Daines spoke out on the floor of the Senate Wednesday in clear terms, outlining what the LWCF means to Montana. In a press conference Wednesday, Tester said somebody “needs to crack some heads on the other side of the aisle” to get this reauthorization through.

We could not agree more.

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