Last Wednesday, Sen. Steve Daines asked Senate leadership to bring a bipartisan public lands package, including permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, to the floor for a vote.
On Thursday, leadership agreed to do so.
That's a big accomplishment for Daines, and Montanans should be grateful.
Certainly, reauthorization of LWCF should be "table stakes" — something that is, if not automatic, very close to it. But that's not the way things work in today's polarized, hyperpartisan Congress, and so the fact that Daines has pushed his weight behind this bill is commendable and significant.
Protection of public lands should not be a partisan issue. Neither party should "own" the policy of protecting the lands that belong to all Americans for future generations. Unfortunately, some of the actions of the Interior Department under the Trump Administration, including reducing the size of national monument lands and opening BLM lands in places like the Big Hole River valley to oil development, have made these issues partisan.
We have been critical in the past of Sen. Daines' apparent unwillingness to engage in public meetings with all stakeholders on Wilderness Study Area designations. We certainly hope that he schedules some public sessions to take a full range of input on that issue before redrafting and reintroducing a bill on that subject.
But it's important to credit Sen. Daines with working with Sen. Jon Tester and other Democrats as well as Senate leadership and members of his own party on this public lands package. Another part of the package, The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, clearly reflects the views and desires of citizens and business owners on the park's northern edge. While we remain firmly pro-mining, there are places where mining shouldn't be permitted, and Yellowstone's front yard is certainly one of those places.
The package also includes the reauthorization of sportsmen's wildlife conservation programs and anti-poaching programs, and assists in the management of invasive species. Other provisions would support sportsmen's access and heritage, Daines' office says, and also authorizes the Every Kid Outdoors program and the 21st Century Conservation Corps.
Interestingly, a nonpartisan nonprofit, GovTrack, recently recognized Daines for effectiveness — he had the most bills that became law of any senator in the 2014-elected class — and also the most bipartisan bills of any senator in that class.
Daines was also named the 13th-most bipartisan senator of the last Congress in the annual rankings by Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and the Lugar Center.
All this is entirely appropriate to Montana. Even though our state is consistently characterized as "deep Red" by many in the national media, those who know it better understand that Montana is deeply independent. Of course, we have a Republican Senator and Representative and a Democratic Governor and Senator. But beyond that, Montanans tend to vote for issues, and individuals, over party affiliation.
Support for the protection of public lands is very strong across the state, which is why ill-considered, extreme ideas like transferring federally administered public lands to state or private hands will never gain much traction here.
We believe it's apparent that Sen. Daines understands that.
His work in the Senate this week should please the great majority of his constituents, and we are among those glad to see it.