National Policy Updates

With President Biden's signature, March saw the end to the appropriations process for fiscal year 2022, providing funding for the federal government, albeit nearly six months into the fiscal year. With last year’s government funding cycle finally at an end, this year’s process began with the release of the president’s budget. In addition to the dense spending bills, this month the House of Representatives passed legislation that would provide information to improve access opportunities on our public lands and waters.  

Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act 

On March 15, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3113, the Modernizing Access to our Public Land (MAPLand) Act with an overwhelming display of bipartisan support. Led by Reps. Blake Moore (R-UT), Kim Schrier (D-WA), Russ Fulcher (R-ID) and Joe Neguse (D-CO), this commonsense legislation passed with a margin of 414-9.  

The MAPLand Act would fund public land management agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers, to standardize, compile and release digital map records to the public. The publicly available information would include the open or closed status of roads and trails on public lands, vehicle-use regulations and boundary details. 

Companion legislation, S. 904 led by Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Angus King (I-ME), was introduced in the Senate in March of 2021. Following House passage of the bill, the Senate must now pass its version of the bill before this legislation heads to the president’s desk. The Senate bill was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a unanimous vote last November and reported to the full Senate this February. 

Read BHA’s press release here.  

Read BHA an op-ed by BHA's Utah chapter here.

Read BHA’s blog post here for more on the MAPLand Act. 

Annual Appropriations, This Year and Last 

Both chambers of Congress passed final negotiated spending bills for the current, ongoing fiscal year in time to be signed by the president on March 15. The adopted budget for the remaining six months of the fiscal year included slight increases in important funding supported by BHA for the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System and North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Unfortunately, the version passed included historic policy riders such as the anti-science sage grouse language that prohibits funding to be used to list the greater sage grouse on the federal threatened and endangered species list. The removal of this rider from future, unrelated spending legislation is important for sage grouse recovery - and science should direct species recovery, not politics. 

Having a properly operating federal budget instead of a continuing resolution is vitally important to ensure that staffing needs are met by agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service and to operate new programs like those created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

On March 28, the White House released its proposed budget for the upcoming 2023 fiscal year. This will serve as the sounding board for Congress as negotiations begin between parties and chambers regarding their priorities for the next year’s federal government budget. BHA is advocating for the same increased levels of funding for the aforementioned accounts and programs in the coming year as well as funding for the new hardrock mining reclamation program created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

Toplines of the president’s budget include a 24% increase in funding for the Department of Interior. This includes an increase of nearly $300 million for the Bureau of Land Management and a similar increase for the Fish and Wildlife Service. The BLM budget requests a total of $158 million for wildlife habitat management, mostly directed toward implementing conservation efforts for sagebrush ecosystems and sage grouse. For the reclamation of abandoned hardrock mines, $65 million would be provided under the Energy Community Revitalization Program, which was created by the bipartisan infrastructure law last year. The National Forest System would see a 10% bump in spending, part of which would go to the Forest Service for hazardous fuels reduction to improve wildland fire management. 

Critical Minerals Domestic Supply Chain Hearing  

On March 31, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing focused on "opportunities and challenges facing domestic critical mineral mining, processing, refining, and reprocessing." BHA submitted a letter on behalf of several sporting and conservation groups recognizing the need for allowing for a strong domestic mining industry, particularly while current foreign affairs threaten our supply chain of critical minerals, while at the same time balancing protections for critical fish and wildlife habitat on our most special public lands. 

Among the witnesses was the chief regulatory officer for Twin Metals, the company overseeing the copper-nickel sulfide mining project that threatens the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. BHA staffers are working to ensure that committee members understand the importance of protecting the Boundary Waters watershed - while at the same time acknowledging the feasibility of securing domestic mineral production.  

Read our blog here on this and other recent forums on balance in the Boundary Waters.