BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Proposed land conservation purchases in dozens of states would preserve parts of tourist destinations, U.S. officials said Friday, but lawmakers from both parties pushed back on Trump administration restrictions on how the money can be spent.
The congressionally authorized $125 million would buy private land inside places like Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, Kentucky’s Green River National Wildlife Refuge and Florida’s Everglades.
But last week some senators objected to an order from U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that empowers local and state officials to block purchases and that limits acquisitions to within parks and refuges, rather than expanding their footprints.
Notable critics include Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who helped barter the bipartisan agreement that authorized the conservation fund purchases under the Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law in August.
Daines said in a statement that the order ran counter to “the transparency, collaboration, and partnerships that have made this critical conservation program so successful for decades.”
“This must be corrected going forward to ensure Montana voices are heard,” Daines said. “Fortunately, Congress maintains oversight.”
Democratic Sens. Tom Udall, of New Mexico, Jon Tester, of Montana, and Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, also have raised objections. Udall called it a “last-gasp attempt” by the Trump administration to hinder preservation efforts.
A Tester spokesman called it a “slap in the face” to push through the order weeks before Trump leaves office.
Margaret Everson, a counselor to Bernhardt involved in developing the spending plan, defended Bernhardt’s order and said there are no plans to rescind it as Tester has requested.
“This idea about being a good neighbor and coordinating with state and local counterparts is a good idea,” she said. “That’s something that’s really important as we prioritize recreational access and opportunities for everybody.”