Land and Water Conservation Fund
The House Natural Resources Committee passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (H.R. 3195), legislation that dedicates $900 million annually to the program, with a 21-13 vote. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to mark up its version, S. 1081, in July. However, the committee held a hearing to review the implementation of LWCF. BHA submitted questions focusing on how LWCF benefits sportsmen’s access to our public lands and waters. Join BHA in urging your lawmakers to cosponsor legislation that permanently funds LWCF at $900 million annually.
Appropriations and Budget
The House wanted to pass fiscal year 2020 funding levels prior to the July 4th recess, and members succeeded. The first appropriations package, also known as a minibus spending bill, passed with a 226-203 vote. The bill included funding for the Army Corps of Engineers and an amendment from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) that prohibits the Army Corps from finalizing the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that could allow gold and copper extraction in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed. The amendment does not prevent development but does stall the process. Click here and thank your representative for supporting this amendment.
The second spending minibus package passed with increased FY2020 funding levels for Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture programs. The legislation includes the following:
$524 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $89 million greater than the FY2019 enacted levels;
$1.4 billion for the Bureau of Land Management, including $73 million for sage grouse conservation;
$3.68 billion for non-fire programs at the U.S. Forest Service; language that encourages prohibition of the BLM and USFS from advancing mineral extraction in the Boundary Waters watershed until an environmental analysis is completed;
$3 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to provide state wildlife agencies with resources to conduct chronic wasting disease research on wild cervid (i.e. deer, elk and moose) populations.
The Senate has yet to consider appropriations bills because members would like to agree on a two-year budget deal prior to addressing specific funding levels. Passing a budget deal would prevent more than $100 billion in automatic cuts to the overall federal spending to go into effect under sequestration. Lawmakers have until Oct. 1 to pass 12 funding bills individually or as a package to avoid a government shutdown and avoid sequestration.
The House Natural Resources Committee marked up Rep. Joe Neguse’s (D-CO) Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (CORE Act, H.R. 823). H.R. 823 highlights important landscapes like headwaters, migration corridors, and ranges critical to the health of species, including Colorado River cutthroat trout, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep and many other species. The CORE Act has been years in the making through local stakeholder collaboration. The Colorado chapter sent Congress a letter supporting this measure.
U.S. Forest Service
On June 13, 2019, the Forest Service released a proposed rule amending its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures. The public has 60 days – until Aug. 12 – to comment. Information about the proposed rule, how to comment, and upcoming informational webinars are available on a Forest Service web page. The agency also is revising its directives, Forest Service Manual 1950 and Handbook 1909.15, to reflect the proposed rule, with the proposed directives to be published in the Federal Register at an unspecified later date for public review and comment.
According to the Forest Service, the proposed rule is designed to “increase the pace and scale of work accomplished on the ground” – with a focus on removing hazardous fuels – by “completing project decision making in a timelier manner.” The proposal, however, is much broader than its stated goals, and without narrowly focused side-rails, we have concerns about the following:
Removing inventoried roadless areas (IRAs) and potential wilderness areas from the classes of actions that normally require preparation of an environmental impact statement. The proposed rule would similarly remove projects in potential wilderness areas (i.e., areas identified in a Forest Service wilderness inventory) from increased public scrutiny and impact analysis.
Adopt seven new categorical exclusions (CEs) and expand two existing CEs to shield from any environmental review or public process a wide array of projects. These could be used wisely if, for example, Trout Unlimited was doing multiple culvert projects in a watershed. Having only one impact analysis done and CEs for the remaining work makes good sense. The language in the rule, however, is written poorly and could be taken advantage of. For example, it would enable the conversion of illegal off highway vehicle routes to official Forest Service System roads or trails – contrary to decades of Forest Service travel management policy.
Rather than addressing the actual causes of agency inefficiency in environmental decision-making (e.g. redundancies, funding, staffing, training, and turnover), the Forest Service is ironically taking steps that will likely result in increased litigation and less active management of our national forests. The rule enables other concerning practices without proper analysis for impacts to fish and wildlife habitat, but according to the Forest Service itself, three-quarters of its decisions requiring public input and comment could be made under CEs without any input from the public.
Chronic Wasting Disease
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on June 25 regarding the threats to deer, elk and moose and hunter participation due to the spread of chronic wasting disease. CWD is a deadly transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), which is long-lived in soils and affects captive and wild cervid (i.e. deer, elk and moose) populations. Cases of CWD has been found in 26 states and two Canadian provinces. BHA submitted testimony that applauds the committee’s efforts in bringing attention to this matter while also encouraging lawmakers to support legislation that implements management practices to contain the spread of CWD and conducts research on how it’s transmitted.