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Changes To LWCF Trigger Swift Bipartisan Pushback

Proposed projects or LWCF funding from the Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land
Proposed projects or LWCF funding from The Trust for Public Land

The Interior Department is facing criticism for putting up barriers to conservation projects nationwide funded through the new Great American Outdoors Act.

The bipartisan bill was celebrated over the summer for, among other things, permanently authorizing the $900-million-a-year Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is primarily supported by royalties from oil and gas leases to underwrite public outdoors projects, from conservation easements to skateparks.

But Interior Secretary David Bernhardt issued an order last week restricting how the money can be spent, including giving state and local governments veto power over federal land acquisitions.

Lawmakers - including Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who championed the bill in the GOP-controlled Senate - and public lands advocates are pushing back.

Kyle Simpson, senior government affairs manager with the National Recreation and Park Association, says Congress considered granting local governments such authority and voted against it,"And now the Trump administration is trying to go around those and put them into a secretarial order, which we just can't support," Simpson said.

Jessica Wahl Turner, executive director the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of recreational trade groups, says she expects changes to Bernhardt's order, saying it's "really kind of impossible in some cases to get the governor and the county commissioner and the mayor have to agree that [a] project is good."

The order adds to existing frustration over the Interior Department's handling of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Earlier in the month it missed a key deadline for releasing a list of potential projects. The list itself is controversial and vague, but says projects are planned in Montana, Idaho and Colorado next year

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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