October was busy on Capitol Hill and at the White House. Both chambers of Congress and the White House spent much of the month continuing to negotiate the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act. If signed into law, both bills would have significant benefits to conservation and public lands, water and wildlife. Additionally, the White House made several important announcements regarding the conservation of iconic public lands.
In late October, the Senate released its draft Interior and Environment spending bill for fiscal year 2022. This legislation includes several important funding increases supported by BHA, including to the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge System. Notably, the Senate draft bill also does not include the historic anti-science sage-grouse policy rider. The removal of this rider is important for sage-grouse recovery, and science should direct species recovery, not politics. BHA staff will continue to ensure the priorities of sportsmen and women are reflected similar to the bill passed by the House earlier this year.
With the annual appropriations process unfinished, the government continues to operate on a continuing resolution (CR) until Dec. 3. The debt ceiling limit will need to be revisited by Congress once again on the same date. The House passed its version of the spending bills back in July; however, the Senate must do the same and the bills must be reconciled before being passed into law.
Boundary Waters Watershed Conservation
On October 20th, the departments of Agriculture and Interior announced they would be taking action to review a 20-year mineral withdrawal in the Superior National Forest upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Hunters and anglers overwhelmingly support protecting the Boundary Waters from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. This withdrawal would include a study on the potential effects of sulfide-ore copper mining to the region, including fish and wildlife.
As a part of this process, the BLM is holding a 90-day public comment period. As America’s most visited wilderness, the Boundary Waters provides accessible opportunities for sportsmen and women to hunt, fish, camp and explore.
Build Back Better Act
Ongoing negotiations between the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House could result in a deal on this partisan budget reconciliation process that sidesteps the filibuster. The topline of this previously $3.5 trillion package has been negotiated down to $1.75 trillion. BHA staff is working to ensure that, even with significant cuts to the topline, the bill still contains important conservation priorities included by the House:
- Hardrock mining modernization that would create a new royalties and fees for hardrock mining, which currently is the only extractive industry on public lands that does not pay a royalty
- $2.5 billion appropriated for the Abandoned Mine Land Cleanup Fund
- A repeal of the oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and buying back existing leases
- A mineral withdrawal to protect roughly 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon
- $10 million appropriated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the conservation of wildlife corridors
- $100 million appropriated to the USFWS for grassland restoration and protection
- $14 billion appropriated for wildfire management through hazardous fuels reduction
- $1.25 billion appropriated to the Forest Service for the Forest Legacy Program
- $450 million appropriated for the Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails Program
Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
The House vote planned for this major bill on the last day of September was canceled due to failed negotiations surrounding the Build Back Better Act. Progressive members of the Democratic caucus threatened to withhold their support until Congress took action on the Build Back Better Act. Without the full support of the Democratic caucus, the infrastructure bill would not have passed. This package contains important conservation priorities that BHA highlighted when the Senate passed its version back in August. It remains in limbo until further agreements are made between both congressional chambers and the White House on its movement in tandem with the budget reconciliation package.
With the extension of the Surface Transportation Authorization ending Oct. 31, it is likely that Congress will be forced to move on this legislation before the end of the month.
Legislation Before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
This month the committee held a hearing in the Public Lands, Forests and Mining Subcommittee as well as a hearing with the full committee. Both meetings included the discussion of bills that BHA has been tracking and supports.
During the subcommittee hearing testimony was heard on four public lands bills supported by BHA:
- Sen. Tester’s (MT) Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (S. 1493), which would protect nearly 80,000 acres of wildlife habitat through wilderness designation, open over 2,000 acres of currently closed land to snowmobiling, and protect an additional nearly 4,000 acres for recreation including mountain biking and hiking. The bill also requires the Forest Service to conduct a forest health assessment and identify new timber projects to maintain forest health.
- Sen. Padilla’s (CA) PUBLIC Lands Act (S. 1459), which would protect over 1 million acres of public land in California including the designation of more than 600,000 acres of wilderness, 583 miles of new wild and scenic rivers and the expansion of San Gabriel National Monument by more than 100,000 acres.
- Sen. Wyden’s (OR) Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 1589), which would establish a 30,000-acre Molalla Recreation Area and 98,000-acre Rogue Canyon Recreation Area, expand the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness Area an additional 60,000 acres, and permanently withdraw 100,000 acres of Forest Service land from mining near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, an important headwater.
- Sen. Cortez Masto’s (NV) End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act (S. 607), which would promote multiple use management on public lands by discouraging speculative oil and gas leasing of land that is not known to contain oil or gas deposits. BHA is not opposed to energy development on public lands, however frivolous lease nominations burden land managers and conflict with fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.
The full committee heard testimony on forestry and wildfire legislation. Multiple bills were being tracked by BHA. One of which we want to highlight is Senator Daines’ S. 2561. This legislation would provide a legislative fix for the Cottonwood decision that has negatively impacted habitat restoration work and forest health.
Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act
Introduced by Reps. Kind (WI-D) and Thompson (R-PA), H.R. 5608 would authorize $70 million annually to establish a new program to research chronic wasting disease (CWD) in addition to funding state and tribal management of CWD. BHA has endorsed this critical legislation to help fight what represents one of the greatest threats to deer and other wild cervids in the United States.
The need for this legislation is well understood in Congress as evidenced by the House Agriculture Committee passing the bill unanimously two days after it was introduced. BHA will continue to advocate as the bill moves toward being signed into law.
Three National Monuments Restored
On Oct. 8, the Biden administration announced it would be reinstating protections for three national monuments whose boundaries had been reduced by the previous administration: Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine.
BHA applauded this move to restore integrity to the Antiquities Act, which was used to create these monuments. The Antiquities Act has been used by administrations of both major parties to conserve large landscapes. National monument designations can conserve important fish and wildlife habitat while maintaining traditional hunting and fishing access.
FWS Director Nomination
The Biden administration has announced the nomination of Martha Williams as director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ms. Williams is a hunter and an angler and has worked with BHA in the past. We are confident she will be a capable leader in this role. Williams has had a long career in fish and wildlife management, including director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as the Interior Department’s deputy solicitor for parks and wildlife, and currently as the principal deputy director of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. BHA hopes to see her nomination move forward as quickly as possible.