Congress passes final FY 2021 spending bills

By Laura Bies

The U.S. Congress passed an omnibus bill containing the remaining spending bills for FY 2021.
Credit: Craig McCaa/BLM Alaska

After months of delay, the U.S. Congress has passed the remaining Fiscal Year 2021 spending bills. Fiscal Year 2021 began on Oct. 1, and the government has been running on a series of continuing resolutions since then.

The massive package, which Congress passed late on Dec. 21, includes a $900 billion economic recovery and health care package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the eight remaining FY 2021 spending bills.

Under the final appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior and related agencies, the Interior Department would receive $13.71 billion, a slight increase from FY 2020. That figure includes $1.55 billion for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, $1.341 billion for the Bureau of Land Management, $1.315 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey and $3.124 billion for the National Park Service.

Within the USFWS budget, the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program will receive $72.4 million, nearly $5 million more than FY 2020. The Wildlife Society recommended funding the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program at $90 million. The National Wildlife Refuge System will be funded at $503.9 million, significantly less than the $586 million that The Wildlife Society and the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement recommended, though still a slight increase over previous funding.

The final bill reinstates funding for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Research Units, which the administration recommended eliminating, providing $25 million in funding — an increase of $1 million over FY 2020 levels. The Wildlife Society has strongly advocated for increased funding for the CRUs, which have seen a $6 million increase over the previous two fiscal years.

The bill supported the BLM’s plan to reduce wild horse and burro numbers, allocating $115.7 million to BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, $1 million more than the administration requested. The bill contains prohibitions on sales or transfers of adopted wild horses and burros that results in the animal’s deathn, as well as provisions preventing the BLM from euthanizing a wild horse or burro except in cases of severe injury, illness or advanced age. It also calls on the BLM to regularly communicate with Congress regarding its plan to reduce wild horse and burro numbers.

Within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would receive $1.57 billion, including a $10 million increase in research through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The U.S. Forest Service will receive $7.42 billion, including $258.8 million for the Rangelands Research Program, a nearly $10 million increase over FY 2020. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which includes Wildlife Services, would be funded at $1.06 billion, a $21 million increase from FY 2020.

The Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law in August, made funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund mandatory, and the bill provides $900 million for acquisitions and grants under the program. It also includes the first installment of funding for deferred maintenance on federal lands, totaling $20 billion over the next five years.

The Great American Outdoors Act required the Interior and Agriculture departments to submit a lists of projects and federal land acquisitions to be funded by the act. After disagreement between the departments and the administration regarding the submission of those lists, appropriators mostly relied on a previous priority list in allocating funding, instead of using the newer lists provided recently by the administration.

Read TWS’ recommendations for FY2021 funding for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

Share your thoughts on this article, and others, on our Facebook and Twitter pages.