With the beginning of the new year, Congress returned to Washington, D.C. It can be expected that action on most legislative priorities will start to dwindle by the latter half of 2022 with elections in November. BHA has several key priorities our policy staffers are working to advance into law before then, such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act. Read below for updates on those bills and more including huge news for the Boundary Waters.
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
This historic legislation led by Reps. Dingell (D-MI) and Fortenberry (R-NE) was advanced by the House Natural Resources Committee by a bipartisan vote of 29-15. With multiple representatives on both sides of the aisle speaking in support of the bill, the bill is building enormous momentum. Much of the conversation in committee focused on the desire for Democrats and Republicans to come to an agreeable provision to offset the cost of the legislation.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would create nearly $1.4 billion in annual dedicated funding for state and tribal wildlife management agencies. In doing so, it would provide critical support for conservation work, enhancing fish and wildlife habitat and boosting America’s outdoor recreation economy. The management of at-risk species under science-based wildlife action plans is beneficial for all fish and wildlife, including game species. BHA and our partners hope to see this legislation passed into law in 2022 and continue to advocate for its support in both the House and Senate, where it was the subject of a hearing last December.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Big news on the Boundary Waters came on Jan. 26 with the Department of the Interior announcing the cancellation of two federal hardrock mineral leases located in the Superior National Forest within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed, citing the importance of this move to sustaining the Boundary Waters’ recreational, economic and fish and wildlife values. Thousands of members of organized hunting, fishing and conservation groups support this decision, which is an important step in the effort to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from the negative impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining.
The Interior announcement followed other actions on the Boundary Waters earlier this month. On Jan. 19, the Bureau of Land Management ended a 90-day comment period on a Forest Service proposal for a 20-year mineral withdrawal in the Superior National Forest watershed that is home to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The BLM received nearly 250,000 comments. Proposed sulfide-ore copper mining would have disastrous impacts on this irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat. As the most visited wilderness in the United States, such an accessible outdoor opportunity for Americans to hunt, fish, and recreate must not be lost to irresponsible development.
During a set of public hearings held by the BLM that same week, comments supportive of protections for the Boundary Waters outweighed those supportive of mining by a ratio of 2 to 1. A huge thank you goes to BHA members and supporters who submitted comments and spoke during the public hearings. BHA was disappointed to see the House Natural Resources Committee Minority hold a forum that week supporting sulfide-ore copper mining upstream of the Boundary Waters. It is critical that the committee recognizes the importance of balancing mining with the value of natural resources like the lands and waters within the Boundary Waters watershed – places that support a robust hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation industry.
Alaska Roadless Rule
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ended a 60-day comment period to consider the repeal of the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule and to reinstate roadless protections for over 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest. The USDA received more than 175,000 public comments, including those from BHA members and supporters. The Tongass is United States’ largest national forest and contains nearly 15,000 miles of documented anadromous rivers and streams, providing critical spawning habitat for wild salmon in addition to habitat for brown and black bears, Sitka blacktail deer, and mountain goats.
Arctic Slope Reserve Conservation Management
The Biden administration announced this month its intention to reverse the 2019 BLM decision to remove protections for more than 6 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The reserve, located on Alaska’s North Slope, is the largest unit of public land in the United States, with a total of more than 23 million acres. Returning to the previous BLM management plan will allow for extractive development in over half of the reserve while restoring protections for key areas such as Teshekpuk Lake.
This incredible landscape is home to a wide diversity of wildlife, including the Western Arctic and Teshekpuk Lake caribou herds, grizzly bears and wolves, as well as fish ranging from Dolly Varden and arctic char to lake trout and northern pike. The region also provides summer nesting habitat relied upon by waterfowl all over the world. The reserve’s Teshekpuk Lake Special Area plays a critical role for tens of thousands of greater white-fronted geese, Pacific black brant, cackling geese and snow geese. Additional species of waterfowl that nest in the region and migrate to North America’s flyways include all four species of eiders, tundra swans, wigeon, pintail, longtail duck, canvasback, teal and merganser.
FWS Director Nomination Advances
This month the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to advance the nomination of Martha Williams as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a bipartisan vote of 16-4. Williams is a hunter and an angler who has in the past worked alongside BHA. We are confident she will be a capable leader in this role. Williams has had a long career in fish and wildlife management, including as director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Interior Department’s deputy solicitor for parks and wildlife, and currently the principal deputy director of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. BHA hopes to see her nomination move forward as quickly as possible with a vote by the full Senate.
The extended government funding that has been running for four months will expire on Feb. 18. Senate Democrats and Republicans have yet to come to an agreement on negotiations for the 2022 fiscal year. Both the Interior and Environment appropriations bill passed by the House and the Senate’s draft Interior and Environment appropriations bill include important funding increases supported by BHA. The Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System and North American Wetlands Conservation Act would receive increased funding if these bills are signed into law.
If Senate negotiations cannot be agreed upon, a yearlong extension of last year’s government funding levels may be the only path forward. This would forgo these new funding increases and maintain spending levels from the previous year.
As negotiations continue, the 2023 fiscal year funding cycle is also beginning. BHA will be advocating for these same funding increases in the coming year as well as funding for the new hardrock mining reclamation program created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law late last year.
Build Back Better Act
The partisan budget reconciliation bill that sidesteps the filibuster was passed by the House in November of last year following months of negotiations. In the Senate this package has been stalled entirely by Sens. Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ). However, the White House is advocating that a pared-down version focused on climate change and the environment move forward. BHA staff are working to ensure that the version taken up by the Senate contains the important conservation priorities below that were included by the House:
- Repealing the oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and buying back existing leases
- Appropriating $240 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service for the National Wildlife Refuge System and state wildlife management areas
- Appropriating $10 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service for the conservation of wildlife corridors
- Appropriating $40 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service for grassland restoration and protection
- Appropriating $2.5 billion to the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management for ecosystem restoration, habitat improvement and land management
- Appropriating $27 billion for forestry and wildfire programs, including $14 billion for wildfire management through hazardous fuels reduction, $1.25 billion to the Forest Service for the Forest Legacy Program, and $450 million for the Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails Program
- Appropriating $3 million for the Bureau of Land Management to revise rules and regulations to prevent the degradation of public lands from hardrock mining
Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act
As a roundup from December of last year, important action was taken by the House to pass the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act (H.R. 5608), led by Reps. Kind (D-WI) and Thompson (R-PA). This critical legislation went through an expedited committee process before being voted out of the House Agriculture Committee unanimously. Just over one month later it was passed with an enormous bipartisan margin of 393-33 on the House floor.
BHA and a broad coalition of hunting groups support the legislation, which would fund coordinated management between the Agriculture Department and state wildlife agencies and departments of agriculture, authorizing $70 million over the next seven years. The bill also would fund CWD research and the development of educational programs to inform the public. With the bill now out of the House, BHA is working to get a companion introduced in the Senate and passed this year.
Veterans in Parks Act
The 2022 National Defense Reauthorization Act, must-pass-legislation, was signed by the president on Dec. 27. Included by both the Senate and House in this bill was a provision with the language of the Veterans in Parks Act, led by Sens. Sinema (D-AZ) and Boozman (R-AR) and Reps. Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and Gallego (D-AZ). With this legislation signed into law, current military service members will be guaranteed free annual America the Beautiful passes, and both veterans and members of Gold Star families will be ensured free lifetime America the Beautiful passes, which provide access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including national parks, forests and wildlife refuges.