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Conservation: Reversing Barnhardt was the right call

When acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega rescinded a directive from former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last week, he appears to have steered a federal program back to operating as Congress wished. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were caught off guard in November — a week after the election — when Bernhardt issued a directive that gave local officials veto power and limited federal land acquisitions to property inside the existing boundaries of parks and refuges.

Bernhardt’s order also required landowners to get written support from county and state officials before they could sell land to the government through the program.

The $125 million in spending for the conservation program was authorized to fund purchases under the Great American Outdoors Act. That act had supporters ranging from Trump loyalist Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Then-President Donald Trump signed the measure into law in August.

De la Vega seems to have mitigated the damage from the mid-November about-face.

“I look forward to continuing to see the Land and Water Conservation Fund program be a success for public access and conservation in Montana and across the country, which will be the case so long as we continue to rely on local input and follow the letter of the law,” Daines said.

Whatever politics were being played with Bernhardt’s directive, De la Vega made the right move in both acting to safeguard natural areas from development and protect wildlife as the conservation fund is meant to do, and restoring a little bipartisan goodwill in Congress at an important time.

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