Senate Appropriations release bill addressing wildfires, sage grouse |

Senate Appropriations release bill addressing wildfires, sage grouse

The Senate Appropriations Committee released a fiscal year 2018 bill that addresses the longstanding issue of the U.S. Forest Service firefighting budget, but Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the bill is not bipartisan.

While the bill provides funding for programs important to Vermont, Leahy said “I am deeply disappointed that the overall bill has bowed to the anti-science know-nothingism of President Trump by slashing environmental programs and denying the reality of climate change.”

In a summary of the bill, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., noted it includes $5.8 billion for the U.S. Forest Service, including the full 10-year average for wildfire suppression costs as well increased funding for hazardous fuels reduction to help prevent catastrophic wildfires.

The bill also includes $3.6 billion to fight wildland fire, representing fire suppression funding at 100 percent of the 10-year average and emergency suppression funds made available in the event regular suppression funding is insufficient to cover the costs of fighting wildfires, Cochran said.

Also included in bill language is a fire cap adjustment that would end the practice of “fire borrowing” and make fire suppression expenditures above 100 percent of the 10-year average eligible for disaster assistance, along with forest management reforms designed to reduce this risk of wildfire and improve management of national forests.

But Leahy said the bill provides a decrease of $97 million below the fiscal year 2017 level for wildland forest fighting. He said it also couples budgetary reforms for wildland firefighting with major new authorizations that modify environmental requirements for forestry projects, set aside logging restrictions on old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest, and provide a blanket exemption for Alaska from the Roadless Rule, which prohibits commercial logging and road construction in certain areas, overriding various court decisions.

Leahy also described as “poison pill riders” language that prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from conducting any activities related to determining if the lesser prairie chicken may be a threatened species, and a provision that continues to override a court requirement that the agency make a determination on whether the greater sage grouse should be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

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