With the start of January came the beginning of the 118th Congress. Following midterm elections and lame duck session, the Senate reconvened to swear in new members and organize committees under a Democratic majority expanded by one seat. The House of Representatives returned under a new, slim Republican majority after the midterm elections. The House was slower to organize with Speaker Kevin McCarthy requiring fifteen separate voting events over the course of four days to secure his leadership over the lower chamber. You can read more about the beginning of the 118th Congress and BHA’s policy work on our blog.
This month the administration took several significant conservation actions detailed below:
Waters of the United States
On January 18, the EPA published their final "Revised Definition of 'Waters of the United States" or WOTUS rule. Supported by hunters and anglers, this decision will integrate the best available science and input from the public in a framework that supports healthy habitat, clean water and public health, as well as agricultural activity and economic development. Increased protections for critical waters and wetlands will benefit sportsmen and women for generations to come, and BHA has consistently advocated for greater durability in the WOTUS rule.
Tongass Roadless Rule Restored in Alaska
On January 25, the U.S. Forest Service announced their decision to restore the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule to the Tongass National Forest. Doing so reinstated roadless area protections for more than 9 million acres of the Tongass. Along with thousands of miles waterways providing one of the world’s most important salmon spawning areas, the Tongass also provides habitat and hunting opportunities for mountain goats, Sitka black-tailed deer and both brown and black bears. BHA has long been a supporter of the Roadless Rule which has protected 58.5 million acres of backcountry lands across the nation providing important wildlife habitat. In 2020 the Alaska Roadless Rule removed those protections entirely from the Tongass, despite 96% of public comments being in opposition. You can read more in this piece here.
20-Year Administrative Protections for the Boundary Waters
On January 26, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service announced they had finalized an environmental analysis supporting the 20-year mineral withdrawal of 225,504 acres in the Superior National Forest, upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This will provide protections to the Boundary Waters for the next two decades by prohibiting sulfide-ore mining proposals such as Twin Metals, that pose a threat to the unique hydrology of the region. The Boundary Waters provides the chance to fish for species such as lake trout, smallmouth bass, pike and walleye, as well as unique canoe-based hunts for white-tailed deer, black bear and grouse. BHA applauded this decision that our members and partners have worked for years to secure protections for America’s most visited wilderness area. More history can be found in this piece here.
On January 31, Congresswoman McCollum (D-MN) reintroduced her Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. BHA strongly supports this legislation which would permanently protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore mining. Only Congress has the ability to enact a permanent mineral withdrawal.
Pebble Mine Permit Revoked
On January 31, the EPA announced their use of Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to prohibit the development of Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. For nearly a decade, BHA has worked with tribal leaders and other partners to conserve this renowned watershed. The world’s largest remaining salmon fishery, it is home to half of the global population of sockeye salmon, as well as habitat for moose, caribou, brown bears, black bears and large populations of migratory waterfowl. This announcement is a critical determination following action previously taken by the EPA under the Trump administration – an action that is now being appealed by Pebble Partnership.