During July the Senate held a hearing on bills that would conserve priority landscapes valued by BHA members. In the House, legislation to conserve salmon and steelhead habitat in Oregon was introduced. Much of the month Congress focused on the appropriations to fund the 2024 Fiscal Year...read on for more details.
Senate Committee Considers Public Lands Bills
On July 12, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining held a hearing that included seven bills supported by BHA. Six of those would conserve important public lands and waters in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado and Montana, and the seventh would reform oil and gas leasing on public lands. Now BHA is encouraging the committee to hold a markup on these bills, which we anticipate will result in the necessary votes to report them to the Senate floor.
Learn more about the bills and take action:
- Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act (S. 636) led by Sen. Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Boebert (R-CO)
- Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 1254) led by Sen. Murray (D-WA) – take action here
- End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act (S. 1622) led by Sen. Cortez Masto (D-NV)
- Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act (S. 1634) led by Sen. Bennet (D-CO) – take action here
- Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act (S. 1776) led by Sen. Padilla (D-CA) – take action here
- Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee (Malheur CEO) Act (S. 1890) led by Sen. Wyden (D-OR) – take action here
- Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (S. 2149) led by Sen. Tester (D-MT) – take action here
Additionally, Sen. Daines’ (R-MT) Montana Sportsmen Conservation Act (S. 2216) was heard by the subcommittee. This legislation would release over 100,000 acres of the following wilderness study area designations: Hood Mountain, Wales Creek, and Middle Fork Judith. BHA opposes the passage of this standalone bill as well as Sen. Daines’ approach to using it as a hold on the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. The bill could potentially advance as part of an attempt to make a bipartisan, conservation-oriented public lands package viable to pass Congress.
On July 19, the House Appropriations Committee held a markup on their legislation for the 2024 Fiscal Year. This draft was made public less than 12 hours before the subcommittee markup the previous Thursday and includes substantial cuts for agencies and programs that benefit fish and wildlife, public lands and waters, and consequently hunters and anglers.
Topline numbers in the House bill include an 18% cut for the Bureau of Land Management, a 13% cut for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an 8% cut for U.S. Forest Service non-fire accounts. The National Wildlife Refuge System also received a cut of 10%, despite recent hunting closures announced at the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge due to a lack of staffing.
Funding to clean up abandoned hardrock mine sites would receive only 0.1% of the $3 billion that was authorized just two years ago by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Cost estimates to clean up abandoned mines are as high as $54 billion.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act brokered between President Biden and Speaker McCarthy at the end of May set a cap on spending levels for the upcoming 2024 Fiscal Year to that of the 2022 FY, with a 1% increase for the 2025 FY. This has resulted in expectations for cuts for agencies and programs across the board. Congress will not finish this year’s appropriations process before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. This means they will have to implement a continuing resolution that can extend government funding only through the end of the calendar year. If Congress doesn't make the January deadline for funding the 2024 FY, the Fiscal Responsibility Act calls for a 1% cut across the board.
A long list of policy riders in the House bill would take aim at issues supported by BHA. These include the following:
- Blocking the administration’s Waters of the United States rule (already overturned by the Supreme Court)
- Defunding the administrative withdrawal of the Superior National Forest upstream of the Boundary Waters from mining
- Requiring DOI to reinstate mining leases previously held by Twin Metals in the Superior National Forest upstream of the Boundary Waters
- Overhauling existing mining laws by allowing overly broad authority for mining claims to be used for waste rock disposal and other ancillary activities
- Defunding the ability for DOI to introduce bison to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge
- Defunding the ability for DOI to list greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act
Further, an amendment adopted during the markup process would unfortunately prevent BLM from implementing the Conservation and Landscape Health rule, which would appropriately value conservation as a use of public lands.
The Senate Appropriations Committee held a markup on its version of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies bill on July 27. It would allocate $300 million more for the BLM than the House bill and $500 million more for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Further details on the legislation have yet to be announced.
House Bill Would Permanently Conserve Oregon Public Lands
On July 27, Rep. Val Hoyle (D-OR) introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act. It would solidify the conservation of more than 100,000 acres of public lands near Kalmiopsis Wilderness, protecting the region from mining by permanently extending current protections granted under the 20-year Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. Doing so would ensure healthy headwaters important to salmon and steelhead as well as critical wildlife habitat currently enjoyed by hunters and anglers, conserving these areas for future generations. Some of the last, best habitat for Pacific salmon and coastal cutthroat trout are found in these waterways.
Introduced earlier this year by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 440) also includes this same language that would permanently protect important habitat in southwestern Oregon.
Hearing on Legislation to Conserve New York-New Jersey Watersheds
On July 27, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries held a legislative hearing that included consideration of the New York-New Jersey Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 2982) led by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY). The bill would coordinate existing management plans along with federal resources to improve ecosystem health in addition to improving access to public waters. This region’s rivers, including the Hudson, Mohawk, Raritan, Passaic, Hackensack and Bronx, provide critical fish and wildlife habitat in one of the most populated parts of the nation. The conservation of this watershed is especially critical as the home to both millions of Americans and significant economic activity; in addition to ensuring a healthy and resilient ecosystem, it is critical to secure and improve public access for outdoor recreationists, including sportsmen and women. Federal partnerships in the watersheds of Chesapeake Bay, Delaware River and Great Lakes have successfully yielded many benefits for those ecosystems as well as the sportsmen and women who enjoy them.