ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Conservation groups applaud federal spending bill

Conservation groups say there's plenty for outdoors enthusiasts to celebrate in the $1.3 trillion spending bill Congress approved this week funding the government through the end of the 2018 budget year Sept. 30.

Mallard
The federal spending bill approved by Congress includes additional funding for several key conservation programs, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)

Conservation groups say there's plenty for outdoors enthusiasts to celebrate in the $1.3 trillion spending bill Congress approved this week funding the government through the end of the 2018 budget year Sept. 30.

President Donald Trump signed the bill Friday.

Highlights of the bill in terms of conservation spending include increased funding for key natural resource programs and a provision that no longer would require the U.S. Forest Service to dip into other accounts for wildfire suppression and recovery after appropriated funds run out during catastrophic fire seasons.

The Washington Post reported the bill includes a new $20 billion wildfire disaster fund for the Forest Service and other agencies to battle increasingly larger and more frequent fires that occur under global climate change conditions. The separate source for wildfire funding has long been sought because the money now comes out of the agency's budget, hamstringing efforts to conduct other programs that benefit trees, fish, wildlife and people.

"We are thrilled and relieved to see bipartisan support for many provisions in this spending bill that will benefit fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, sportsmen's access and the outdoor recreation economy, but hunters and anglers especially have reason to cheer for the wildfire funding fix, which will ensure that the Forest Service can get back to the business of maintaining healthy habitat and excellent facilities," Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said in a statement. "The hunting and fishing community should be proud of what our decision makers have accomplished in finding consensus."

ADVERTISEMENT

The spending bill rejects many of the steep cuts in President Trump's budget proposal, giving most agencies a sizable boost, including:

• $13.1 billion for the Department of the Interior, a significant boost from the president's recommendation of $11.7 billion.

• $1.332 billion for the Bureau of Land Management, which is $79 million more than the 2017 enacted level, with $50 million to address the maintenance backlog on federal lands.

• $1.595 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is $75 million more than the 2017 enacted level, with $53 million to address the maintenance backlog at wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.

• $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is $25 million more than the 2017 enacted level.

• $40 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which is $1.85 million more than the 2017 enacted level.

• A seven-year fix to the "fire borrowing" problem that addresses wildfire funding and also forest management reforms and other conservation priorities.

• $3.054 billion in total non-fire funding for the U.S. Forest Service, an increase of $627 million from FY 2017 enacted levels that includes a $35 million increase to address maintenance backlogs on national forest lands.

ADVERTISEMENT

• $3.828 billion for wildland fire management by the Forest Service.

Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, lauded congressional leaders for brokering the bipartisan deal.

"Over the past year we have seen too many threats to U.S. conservation and our hunting and fishing traditions," Tawney said in a statement. "This week, Congress listened to the American people and took action. Our elected leaders showed admirable leadership by investing not only in our outdoor heritage but also in the $887 billion generated annually by our outdoors-dependent economy."

Wolves remain protected

The spending bill doesn't include a provision to remove gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. A judge's ruling in December 2014 returned wolves in the three states to federally protected status. There had been speculation the bill would include a rider returning gray wolves to state control but the language was removed.

That brought a rousing response from Minnesota-based Howling for Wolves.

"Keeping the wolf on the Endangered Species List is the right thing to do for the wolf and for Minnesota," Maureen Hackett, founder and president of the advocacy group, said Thursday in a statement. "The wolf is vulnerable and the vast majority of Minnesotans value wolves and want them protected for future generations. If the wolf is politically removed from Endangered Species Act protections, it will pave the way for reckless wolf trophy hunting and unleash wolf hate like it has done before. We are relieved to see that delisting the wolf is not part of the Omnibus spending agreement in Congress."

What To Read Next
Featuring area prep sports cancellations and postponements, local boys and girls basketball results, N.D. girls wrestling second edition coaches' poll and much more!
Featuring the prep honor roll, area college basketball conference standings, N.D. Class A and B prep basketball polls, and much more!
Featuring boys and girls hockey results from throughout the region, area prep basketball scores, boys swimming and diving results, and much more!
Manning needed 24 points to break the school record held by Kyle Sanden, who scored 1,549 points in the mid-1990s.