Land and Water Conservation Fund Needs Zinke’s Support

Many Americans fell in love with Montana and the Big Blackfoot River after watching the 1992 movie “A River Runs Through It,” featuring Brad Pitt as Paul Maclean. In the movie, a young Paul tells his older brother, Norman, that he wants to grow up to be a fly fisherman. Set in the early 1900s, Norman informed him, “There’s no such thing.”

Flash forward 100 years, today we’re proud fly fishers, but we also run a thriving business taking people from across the globe to fish and float Montana’s vibrant rivers.

Our company, Blackfoot River Outfitters, is financially healthy because the rivers we float are healthy. So are the fish we catch. And for this, we thank the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Created by Congress in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund gets its funding as a result of offshore oil and gas leasing — not from your taxes.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used across the country to conserve historical, cultural and natural sites. One favorite example for our family is the free-flowing Blackfoot River and its canyons, which were shaped by the Missoula Floods. Several sites within the 1.5 million-acre Blackfoot River watershed were conserved using LWCF dollars.

The LWCF is also a key tool for increasing access. Nearly 70 percent of Montana’s fishing access sites have been created using the LWCF, and our business depends on them every day.

Thanks to the LWCF and neighboring landowners, government agencies and concerned anglers, restored spawning tributaries are continually enhancing trout populations – especially those native to the Blackfoot River. This is remarkable, given that the same year that “A River Runs Through It” was on the big screen, the Blackfoot was among the 10 most endangered rivers in America as a result of decades of excessive logging, mining and overgrazing. Today, you can catch native westslope cutthroat, rainbow, brown, cutbows and rare native bull trout.

All this good work on the Blackfoot happened prior to Ryan Zinke flying the flag as secretary of the Interior. That said, Zinke did at one time herald the importance of the LWCF. As Montana’s lone congressman, he even berated his fellow congressmen for failing to vote for permanent reauthorization of the LWCF.

With the LWCF on the path to expire on Sept. 30, we need Zinke to return to his Montana roots and advocate for saving this invaluable outdoor program.

We came to Washington, D.C., specifically to see firsthand if Zinke would show leadership on the LWCF. Recently, we watched him testify before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the Trump administration’s proposed 2019 budget.

Unfortunately, Zinke did not express the support for the LWCF that he did when he was in Congress. When questioned by our senator, Jon Tester, about the LWCF, Zinke defended the administration’s near elimination of funding for the LWCF while simultaneously saying he supports the LWCF. That just doesn’t add up.       

In “A River Runs Through It,” Brad Pitt’s character Paul insists on staying in Montana instead of going to Chicago with his brother. Paul just wanted to keep fly fishing and enjoying the great outdoors. We used to think that Zinke wanted to come back to Montana one day to do the same. But we think he has changed.  

By flip-flopping on his support for the LWCF and towing President Donald Trump’s anti-conservation line, Zinke has shown he’s more interested in playing politics in Washington than bettering the land and water that we in Montana depend on.


Terri Raugland and John Herzer run Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula, Montana, and they conduct custom fly-fishing trips across Montana.

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