National Policy Update – March 2018 Backcountry Beat
FY18 Omnibus Spending Package
This month Congress passed a comprehensive funding package that will enhance management of our public lands, waters and wildlife while supporting new access and opportunities for America’s sportsmen and women. At $1.3 trillion, this omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2018 increases funding across key federal agency bureaus while resoundingly rejecting massive cuts proposed by President Trump.
Department of the Interior
DOI received $13.1 billion in the omnibus, a significant boost from the $11.7 billion recommended by the administration, with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both receiving funding increases. The House of Representatives voted its approval of the package this afternoon, and the Senate is expected to consider the measure no later than tomorrow, potentially heading off a government shutdown set to begin at midnight on Friday.
Bureau of Land Management
$1.332 billion in total funding was appropriated to the BLM, an increase of $79 million from FY 2017 enacted levels that includes a $50 million increase to address public lands maintenance backlogs;
increased funding for sage grouse conservation, including $60.125 million for resource management planning, an increase of $8 million from FY 2017 enacted levels, with the BLM directed to focus funding on greater sage grouse, sage steppe and other high priority conservation areas.
Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act
BHA has been actively working for several years to secure reauthorization for FLTFA, a modified land exchange program that has become a critical tool for Western public lands conservation, eliminating inholdings and consolidating disconnected public lands. This not only fosters greater management efficiencies, it’s an effective way to enhance fish and wildlife habitat and increase public access.
United States Fish & Wildlife Service
$1.595 billion in total funding was appropriated to USFWS, an increase of $75 million from FY 2017 enacted levels that includes a $53 million increase to address maintenance backlogs, primarily on national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act
$40 million was appropriated to the NAWCA grants program, the largest appropriation since 2010 and one that will continue to support waterfowl, wildlife, fisheries and economic contributions across the continent.
Perhaps one of the most significant victories in this massive spending package was securing a seven-year fix to the “fire borrowing” problem that addresses wildfire funding outside of operational funding dedicated to federal agencies for managing public lands. Language in the bill also addresses some positive forest management reforms and dedicates resources to other conservation priorities.
United States Forest Service
$3.054 billion in total non-fire funding was dedicated to the U.S. Forest Service, an increase of $627 million from FY 2017 enacted levels that includes a $35 million increase to address maintenance backlogs on national forest lands. $3.828 billion was allocated specifically for wildland fire management.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
With LWCF set to expire again on September 30th of 2018, BHA and our partners made a strong run at Congress to secure permanent reauthorization in the context of this spending package but were not successful. Requests to increase funding were, however, successful to the tune of $425 million, an increase of $25 million from FY 2017 enacted levels, including $24.916 million provided specifically for land acquisitions, and a pointed directive to DOI administration officials to expeditiously complete all proposed and existing projects without further delay.
Disease in wild bighorn sheep populations from contact with domestic sheep populations grazing on public lands continues to plague herd health around the West. These conflicts remain the most significant threat to the future of wild sheep and it was heartening to see a directive reissued to the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service in this funding package to develop solutions that address bighorn sheep disease and die-offs.