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By Alex Ross 

Tester blasts Trump budget

Speakers in press conference say cuts could cripple Montana’s outdoors industry

 


Montana Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, business leaders and public access advocates blasted President Donald Trump’s proposed budget in a telephone press conference Tuesday, saying steep cuts would negatively affect the state’s public lands and outdoor economy.

“This budget pays for closing trails, locking up lands and shuttering visitor centers,” Tester said. “This budget takes aim at Montana’s outdoor economy, which is growing by leaps and bounds and is creating thousands of jobs each year.”

The Interior Department, which manages federal lands, faces an 11 percent cut in Trump’s 2018 proposed budget. Trump’s budget proposal released last month, proposes $54 billion in cuts to reduce the federal deficit while boosting defense spending.

Congress passed a stopgap measure last month to keep the U.S. government funded through the end of September, while Congress puts together and passes a budget for 2018.

Tester, a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, said bipartisan concern exists about the proposed budget.

Among the cuts are $880,000 less in funding for Glacier National Park and $2 million in funding for Yellowstone National Park.

The cuts come as the number of visitors to Glacier has risen steadily since 2012. Glacier’s website says that in 2016 a record 2,946,681 people visited the park.

“So, as Glacier and Yellowstone shatter visitation records each year, this administration has chosen to slash funding for our nation’s most iconic national parks and economic drivers,” Tester said.  

Former Glacier National Park Superintendent Chaz Cartwright, who was also on the call, said the budget proposal “demonstrates the president’s lack of understanding and appreciation for the important work done by national park employees.”

“I’ve always accepted the fact that you have got to manage with available resources. You just do it, you get the job done. But this budget is unacceptable,” he said.

Cartwright said that at Glacier, retaining an adequate number of seasonal employees has always been a top priority. The park has often managed to do so by having fewer permanent employees. However, cuts of the magnitude proposed would mean substantially fewer seasonal workers, too, he said.

Fewer employees could diminish the ability to preserve and protect resources and historic structures, fewer hours of operation or the outright closure of some park facilities, Cartwright said. He added there would also likely be fewer interpretive programs for visitors and a diminished ability to respond to emergencies.   

The remaining workforce could also experience decreased morale.

Aside from parks, funding for the maintenance of trails in National Forests is cut by $65 million and $100 million for the maintenance of roads.

Tester said he was most alarmed by the reduced funding for the Land Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF. The LWCF uses revenue generated from offshore oil and gas development to award grants for projects that increase access and recreational opportunities on public lands.

The LWCF does not receive any funding through taxpayer dollars. Nonetheless, Tester said, although $900 million was generated for the fund, its budget has been cut by $350 million.

Randy Newberg, a Bozeman hunter, and host of the TV shows “Fresh Tracks” and “On Your Own Adventures” who was on the call, said that at a time when public access is getting harder, the LWCF is an important tool for outdoor enthusiasts.

“The diversion of LWCF and huge cuts to roads and trail maintenance is not good for Montana, it’s not good for local businesses and it’s not good for the jobs those businesses create,” Newberg said.

Speakers said reductions in funding for public lands could also have an adverse effect on Montana’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism and spending by outdoor enthusiasts and travelers.

“This budget is a direct shot at our economy because when you threaten our public lands you threaten our livelihood,” said Marne Hayes, business director of Montana Outdoors, a  group of businesses that rely on public land access for their bottom line.

She said the cuts are bad for business. Beyond the industries that directly benefit from outdoor tourism and recreation, Montana’s public lands also draw new residents and businesses to the state, Hayes said.

She added that in a poll taken in 2014, 74 percent surveyed said Montana’s outdoor scene was a significant factor in starting or moving a business to Montana.

Tester, who has supported calls for a Constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget amendment, said there are better ways to go about reducing spending.

“If you look at things like duplication and some of the waste in government that is a great place to start, and we haven’t even decided to do that as we decide to defund money from the poor, parks and the Land Water Conservation Fund,” he said.

Tester said that while there is bipartisan support for the national parks and normally the members can strip out or fix items through the appropriations process, Trump’s budget has so many cuts, doing so could prove difficult.

In a response to a request for comment, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said Tuesday that as an outdoorsman, he knows public lands are essential to Montana’s way of life, but Congress must balance its budget without reducing critical programs.

“Montana families and small businesses balance their budgets, and it’s unreasonable Washington, D.C., can’t do the same,” Daines said.

 

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