News for Immediate Release
July 20, 2023
Contact: Katie McKalip, 406-240-9262, [email protected]
Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bill advances House committee, fails to consider importance of hunting, fishing, and stewardship of fish and wildlife habitat.
Washington, D.C. — The decision made yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee to move forward in slashing funding for numerous federal land management agencies is a failure to recognize the importance of both the hardworking frontline employees of those agencies and the role of leadership in guiding conservation and stewardship of our natural resources.
The House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill would levy significant cuts from their existing budget. An 18% cut to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a 13% cut to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and 8% to the U.S. Forest Service non-fire accounts (USFS).
The National Wildlife Refuge System would receive a direct cut of 10%. This comes despite the fact that the Refuge System has seen significant funding hurdles in recent years. As visitation to those public lands and waters has increased by approximately 40% over the last decade, staff capacity has decreased by 25%. More than 75% of the Refuge System allows hunting and angling opportunities. However, lack of sufficient funding has resulted in the closure of hunting opportunities without appropriate staffing - most recently at the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri. Along with other members of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), BHA has consistently encouraged Congress to increase funding for the Refuge System to support essential management needs.
Funding to clean up abandoned hardrock mine sites would receive only 0.1% of the $3 billion that was authorized just two years ago by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Cost estimates to clean up abandoned mines are as high as $54 billion. BHA encouraged Congress to appropriate at least $287 million to begin reclamation of abandoned hardrock mines, which represent the largest source of pollution in the United States and troubling hazards to public safety. Rather, Sec. 444 of this bill would overhaul existing mining laws by allowing overly broad authority for mining claims to be used for waste rock disposal and other ancillary activities that threaten our lands and waters. Forty percent of western watersheds are already contaminated by mine tailings and runoff. We should be directing resources to abandoned mine cleanup and not facilitating additional liabilities.
For the first time in history, the BLM has initiated a thoughtful rulemaking process that will create parity for conservation of our public lands and waters by achieving balance with other uses like energy development, mining, and grazing - which have all had numerous rulemakings over the years. A politically motivated amendment in this legislation would unfortunately prevent BLM from implementing the Conservation and Landscape Health rule disregarding an existing but unmet congressional mandate dating to BLM’s establishment under the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act of 1976. This rule would have a positive impact on fish and wildlife habitat by prioritizing conservation and restoration alongside all other uses with equal consideration under a multiple use management mandate. Given that the BLM is the steward of our largest public lands estate, managing more than 245 million acres, the result of this rulemaking would greatly benefit hunters and anglers who rely on healthy, intact public lands to pursue fish and game. It further recognizes the importance and continuation of valid existing rights including energy development, mining, and grazing. It also clarifies assurances for continued recreational access for hunting, fishing, and other casual uses.
“There is an inextricable connection between strategic management of wildlife habitat and the quality of hunting and fishing opportunities,” said John Gale, BHA vice president of policy and government relations. “Yesterday’s vote on this budget shows a lack of understanding or regard for the critical resources that are fundamental to maintaining fish and wildlife habitat and opportunities to pursue our traditions afield.”
On top of those cuts, numerous policy riders in the legislation are taking aim at some of the hunting and fishing community’s core conservation issues.
Two sections of the spending bill would reverse recent conservation actions to safeguard fish and wildlife habitat in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed and pander to foreign special interests that have failed environmental reviews under two separate administrations. Sec. 442 would defund the 20-year mineral withdrawal finalized by DOI in January of this year protecting 225,504 acres of Superior National Forest lands within the watershed of the Boundary Waters. Sec. 443 would require the reinstatement of two federal hardrock mineral leases previously held by Twin Metals in the existing mineral withdrawal, but repeatedly found to be an unacceptable threat to sensitive resources. BHA, along with a multitude of hunting and fishing companies and our partners at Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, applauded the steps taken by DOI and USFS to heed the will of the people by safeguarding the Boundary Waters.
Carryover language in this legislation once again prohibits the USFWS from considering Endangered Species Act protections for the greater sage-grouse as populations continue on a troubling decline. This language has been included in congressional spending bills since 2014 and represents a residual consequence of failed governance and proper budgeting in Congress. BHA opposes this rider and maintains the position that science should direct wildlife management, not politics.
Taking aim at other wildlife management decisions and interfering with locally driven processes, the bill would prohibit USFWS from introducing bison to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Montana.
“Science-based management of our natural resources and our collective public trust obligations compel us to reject fuzzy appropriations logic and misguided congressional actions that favor politics over responsible governance and budget-making,” Gale continued. “BHA calls on our elected leaders to reject this bill’s short-sighted nature and to act in the best interests of our citizens, the economy, and the stewardship of our natural resources.”
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