Funding for Environment and Interior is up, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is in, but a much-needed fix for fire borrowing is out
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Overnight, Congressional leadership unveiled a bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill that includes some important investments in habitat and sportsmen’s access. The must-pass legislation, which is necessary to avoid a government shutdown, will move forward quickly after weeks of intense negotiating.
Sportsmen and women should be pleased to see:
- $32.158 billion allocated for Interior and Environment—a 6-percent increase over FY2015, which includes boosts for the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management.
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorized through 2018, with $450 million appropriated for FY2016, an increase of more than $100 million over the FY2015 level.
- $5.77 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), or $324.6 million more than FY2015, with increases for coastal science and assessment.
- No rider to undermine protections for headwater streams and wetlands.
- No rider to delay or defund conservation plans meant to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list.
- No rider to block the Clean Power Plan, an effort to reduce carbon emissions from current and future power generation.
- Permanent authorization for an incentive to create conservation easements on private lands.
But, not this major blow to conservation:
- No fix for fire borrowing, which continues to strain Forest Service budgets and prevent routine maintenance of national public lands.
The most important function of an omnibus appropriations bill is to set funding levels for priority programs. The package currently before Congress allows a recommitment to key conservation initiatives that matter to sportsmen, including many programs that represent a great dollar-for-dollar investment.
“Our community has pressed for a comprehensive budget deal like this one since July 2015, and we are pleased to see that this bill makes key investments in conservation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Overall, this reflects a commitment to natural resources conservation and sportsmen’s access as essential elements of a strong outdoor recreation economy.”
Although negotiations were extended, lawmakers failed to achieve a policy fix for fire borrowing, the financially destructive way we fund wildfire suppression, which hunters and anglers have been demanding for years. “This is a tremendous missed opportunity, which perpetuates a legacy of fiscal mismanagement with profound national costs,” says Fosburgh.
Congress has included a three-year reauthorization of the expired Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has been one of the country’s most important tools for conserving fish and wildlife habitat for the past 50 years. “While this isn’t the permanent reauthorization that sportsmen and women have been advocating for, we can all support the fact that this action puts LWCF back on solid footing in the near-term—especially with $450 million allocated,” adds Fosburgh. “Rest assured that the TRCP will continue to work with champions on the Hill to get LWCF back on the books permanently.”
Sportsmen have every right to be pleased that language that would weaken sage grouse conservation plans and the Clean Water Act were left out of this bill. “Sportsmen made their case clear on policy riders aimed at undoing so much good groundwork for sagebrush country, headwater streams, and wetlands: These would be poison pills for the sporting community—simply untenable,” says Steve Kline, TRCP Director of Government Relations. “Those voices were heard on Capitol Hill, and as such, this omnibus is free from the most-damaging of riders.”
The bill also makes permanent an incentive for farmers and ranchers to donate conservation easements. This provision will greatly expand private lands conservation across the country.
The TRCP and its partners have been calling for appropriators to support investments in conservation since July 2015, and this group applauds Congressional leaders—House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid—for their work on this package over the past several weeks. Hunters and anglers look forward to seeing it passed by Congress and signed by the president.
Follow the TRCP for the latest news on how Congress plans to pay for conservation in 2016.