Under the radar: Funding fight nets money for fish

By Rob Catalanotto

You’ve probably heard about last week’s budget deal that kept the government open, narrowly avoiding a second disastrous shut down. You surely heard the deal included funding for Southern border security.

But above the roar of vying media outlets and the din of politicians and interest groups, did you hear a sigh of RELIEF that a FY19 appropriations bill was finally passed and signed into law?

The spending bill contains some great news for clean water, fish habitat, and the nation’s natural resources. On Friday, Feb.15th the president signed the massive $333 billion spending and border security package, successfully negotiated by appropriators in Congress. The deal secured fiscal year 2019 funding for the seven remaining appropriations bills and included strong funding for integral natural resource agencies like the EPA, the National Park Service, and the Forest Service.

This good news was overshadowed by juicier headlines, including President Trump’s border security emergency declaration, which he announced immediately after signing the government funding deal. But fish tend not to care about partisan politics, so we at TU want to praise the members of Congress who worked hard to negotiate a bipartisan, fair, and rider-free funding agreement. FY19 appropriators rejected harmful funding cuts proposed by the Administration, and damaging policy riders introduced in Congress last year.

They protected fish and wildlife and their habitats by maintaining critical funding for our natural resource agencies.

Riders Blocked

Senior Congressional negotiators were committed to preserving a balanced and fair appropriations process. These vital decision-makers blocked an onslaught of policy riders, many of which originated in the House versions of the appropriations bills from last year.

For the Interior and Environment spending package, the negotiators rebuffed a number of riders that targeted EPA’s ability to protect clean water, manage endangered species, and conserve water in California.

Among these rejected riders were attempts to limit EPA’s ability to regulate pollution discharges in the Chesapeake Bay, and to disband the Great Lakes Advisory Board—a diverse panel tasked with representing recreational fisheries and many other interests in the Great Lakes.

Bipartisan appropriators also eliminated several Clean Water Act riders, one of which would have repealed the 2015 Clean Water Rule—a regulation that provides Clean Water Act protections for millions of miles of headwater streams and millions of acres of wetlands. Clean water protections are still at risk. To learn more, and to take action, click here.

Cuts rejected, Natural Resource Agencies funded

Thanks to the steadfast work of appropriators on both sides of the aisle, dangerous cuts proposed by the Administration were blocked. The President’s FY19 budget request proposed to gut important initiatives like the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Delaware River Restoration and Conservation Program.

Congressional appropriators dismissed the White House’s attempt to slash budgets for natural resource agencies, opting instead to largely maintain FY18 funding levels. Under the terms of bill, the Environmental Protection Agency received nearly $8.85 billion, about $25 million more than last year, and $2 billion more than President Trump’s budget request.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Delaware River Basin program will receive $6 million in funding, an extra $1 million as compared to last year. The Department of the Interior received roughly $13 billion for fiscal 2019. Appropriators funded the National Park Service at $3.2 billion. To address the agency’s maintenance backlog, NPS will receive $136 million designated for repair and rehabilitation projects on National Park lands, and another $152 million for “cyclic maintenance.”

The Bureau of Land Management received $39 million for the management of the agency’s National Landscape Conservation System—about $11 more than President Trump’s proposed funding levels. The Forest Service received a funding increase of about $152 million that includes increases to help improve forest health, including restoring important fish and wildlife habitat.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, a Fish and Wildlife Service program that works with private landowners to conduct cost-effective habitat projects for the benefit of fish and wildlife resources, was reauthorized at FY18 funding levels—over $15.5 million more than the Administration’s proposed budget. The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, a NOAA program intended to reverse declining stocks of Pacific salmon and steelhead, was funded an the 2018 enacted level of $65 million. The Trump Administration proposed to eliminate the program completely in its' 2019 budget request.

Last week’s funding package also included a $10 million increase for the Land and Water Conservation Fund for a total of $435 million. The increased funding for the country’s premier conservation program comes on the heels of the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan public lands package. The lands package (S.47) permanently reauthorizes LWCF, which expired on September 30th of 2018. The House is expected to vote on the lands package today.

Thank you to Congressional Appropriators

In 2018, fish, wildlife, and their habitats faced challenges from innumerable directions. Urban expansion, energy development, drought, flood and fire brought on by climate change have all threatened the wild places conservationists cherish. But in the face of damaging funding cuts and proposed policy riders Congress opted to fully fund critical natural resource agencies and their conservation programs. Thanks to the efforts of levelheaded negotiators who worked thoughtfully to ensure fair and bipartisan funding for the coming year, TU members can mark the FY19 appropriations process as a huge accomplishment and great win for coldwater conservation, trout and salmon.


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