House Interior appropriations bill clears first hurdle

By Laura Bies

A greater sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis) wades in the water at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, one of the hundreds of national wildlife refuges that stand to benefit from an increase in funding in 2020. ©Dan Streiffert

The appropriations bill that includes programs in the Department of the Interior, U.S. Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency was advanced last week by the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. Yesterday, it passed the full Appropriations committee. The bill would provide more than $37.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2020 — an increase of about $1.7 billion from current funding.

The bill would provide $13.8 billion in funding for the Department of the Interior, an increase of $833 million from the FY 2019 budget. Within Interior’s budget, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $1.7 billion, $79 million more than last year and $329 million above the president’s budget request. The State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program and the National Wildlife Refuge System, among others, would both receive substantial increases about FY 2019 spending levels.

State and Tribal Wildlife grants would receive $71 million in funding, up from $65 million last year. The Wildlife Society’s written testimony on Interior appropriations  recommended funding the program at $90 million in FY 2020. The bill also includes an increase for the National Wildlife Refuge System at $514 million, $26 million above FY 2019 and $5 million above the president’s budget request — and higher than the system has ever received in a final bill. TWS, as part of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, recommended $586 million in funding for the Refuge System.

The bill provides $523.9 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $85 million more than last year and $491 million above the president’s budget request.

The legislation would also include $1.4 billion for the Bureau of Land Management, $66 million above last year and $224 million above the president’s recommendation. This includes a $5 million increase for sage-grouse conservation, bringing that program’s total to $73 million.

The U.S. Geological Survey would be funded at $1.24 billion, a slight increase from FY 2019.  This includes $24 million for the Cooperative Research Units, which the President’s budget would have eliminated.

The National Park Service would receive $3.39 billion in funding, including a $144 million increase in the operations budget for the parks, which would provide for 500 new staff at park units. Funding for the U.S. Forest Service’s non-fire programs would total $3.68 billion, an increase of $257 million from FY 2019 and $895 million above the President’s budget request.

While the House Appropriations Committee has advanced several appropriations bills, with a goal of getting them all to the House floor early in the summer, an overall spending agreement has not been reached with the Senate, which could lead to delays further along in the budget process.

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.

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