Interior funding bill moves forward in Congress

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee passed their annual funding bill, which includes a decrease in overall appropriations, through committee last week.

The bill appropriates $32.1 billion to agencies within the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, and other similar agencies. The total amount is $1 billion below the President’s budget request and a decrease of $64 million from last year’s enacted budget.

TWS submitted written testimony to the subcommittee in March and included requests for funding levels to support key programs for wildlife professionals.

TWS supported the president’s request of $67 million for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program. The bill passed through subcommittee fell short of that request, providing a $2 million increase to the program, funding it at $62.5 million. The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act was funded at $3.9 million, retaining level funding from fiscal year (FY) 2016 enacted levels. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act received $37.6 million, an increase of $2.5 million, in the subcommittee’s bill.

The Bureau of Land Management is set to receive $10 million below the enacted FY 2016 funding level, at $1.2 billion, and the United States Geological Survey would receive $1.1 billion, up $35 million from last year.

Land and Water Conservation Fund is slated to receive $322 million, which is a significant $128 million reduction from last year. Forest Service’s Forest and Rangeland Research is set to receive $292 million – level with the FY 2016 enacted budget – however $77 million of it is to be used for forest inventory, which may shift funds away from wildlife research.

A provision in this bill would prevent FY 2017 appropriations funds from being used for review of the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) under the Endangered Species Act – effectively delaying any listing decisions for the next year. Cooperative conservation agreements for the protection of sage-grouse and sage-steppe habitat remain in place, and there are no plans to list the species in the next year.

While wildland firefighting and prevention were funded at the 10-year average – $3.9 billion – comprehensive legislation to address the costs of wildfire management has not been enacted.

The federal appropriations process includes 12 separate appropriations bills, each developed by a specific appropriations subcommittee in each of the House and the Senate. Despite the passage of the Interior appropriations bill through subcommittee, federal spending allocations for each appropriations bill have not yet been determined. Once the 12 bills have been passed through committee, they will be voted on by the full House or Senate, after which the two versions will be combined, reconciled and brought to another vote.

Header Image: ©Chesapeake Bay Program