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Omnibus Appropriations Bill Signed into Law
The $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 was signed into law by President Trump on Friday March 23. The legislation finally ended the impasse over federal agency spending for the remainder of the year. Largely eliminating the dramatic budget cuts proposed by the administration, the legislation also included provisions enacting a wildfire spending fix and permanent reauthorization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. The omnibus has been touted by many conservation organizations as a win for conservation.
The omnibus appropriations bill maintained or increased funding for many Department of the Interior agencies and programs. The explanatory statement for the Interior and Environment portion of the omnibus outlines details of the subcommittee’s bill and includes information about specific program funding levels as well as policy requirements for the use of some funds. In total, this section (Division G) of the omnibus appropriations bill provides $35.2 billion, $3 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
The Bureau of Land Management is funded at $1.3 billion, an increase of $80 million from 2017 and a $258 million increase over the administration’s budget request. The bill directs $1.2 billion for management of land and resources, including $248 million for land resources, $115.8 for wildlife and fisheries management, $7.2.7 million for recreation management, $123 million for resource protection and management, $36.8 million for the National Landscape Conservation System, and others. In addition, the bill continues to provide $60 million for greater sage-grouse and sage-steppe conservation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will receive $1.6 billion, an increase of $75 million from 2017 and up $292 million from the budget request. This funding includes $247 million for Ecological Services with funding prioritized to reduce the endangered species delisting backlog. There is also $65 million directed toward habitat conservation, with $51.6 million of that designated for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and $13 million for the Coastal Program. The National Wildlife Refuge System will be funded at $486.8 million with $42.9 million targeted toward refuge maintenance. Migratory Bird Management will receive $48.4 and an additional $40 million in funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund. Fisheries and aquatic conservation is allocated $164.6 million with $21.8 million of that directed toward combating aquatic invasive species. For specific funds within the FWS budget, the omnibus directs $53.5 million for Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, $3.9 million for Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, $11 million for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, and $63.6 million for State and Tribal Wildlife Grants. Just under $13 million is allocated for cooperative landscape conservation with a note that there are “disparate levels of partner support across the States and [the committee] expects the Service to focus funding where partnerships are strong.”
Other relevant agencies include $1.1 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey, $63 million above fiscal year 2017. This includes $157.7 for Ecosystems with a specific allocation of $500,000 to study white-nosed syndrome in bats. There is also $152.5 million allocated for land resources studies within the agency. The National Park Service is funded at $3.2 billion, an increase of $255 million above FY17. Within the agency’s budget is $334 million for resource stewardship which is $5.4 million above 2017 funding levels and $32.5 million above the budget request. There is also an additional $185 million above FY17 for longstanding deferred maintenance needs. Overall, the omnibus bill includes $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, up $25 million from 2017 and a substantial increase from the $64 million budget request. There is also $530 million for the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program.
Of particular note, there is specific language within the DOI explanatory statement that there will be no implementation of the department’s reorganization plans unless approved through the committee’s guidelines for reprogramming of funds. The department will be required to send a request to the committee outlining the plan, the anticipated benefits, efficiencies and cost-savings as well as personnel impacts and anticipated funding changes.
The U.S. Forest Service is funded within the Interior and Environment section of the omnibus bill. Overall, the agency will be funded at $3 billion, not including specific funding levels for wildland fire management; this is an increase of $627 million from 2017 and up $833 million from the administration’s request. Within the agency budget, $297 million is allocated for Forest and Rangeland Research, $335.5 million for State and Private Forestry, and $67 million for Forest Legacy. There is also $1.9 billion allocated to the National Forest System including $430 million for hazardous fuels management within the system. The bill also authorizes stewardship contracting to support forest management for terms up to 20 years.
Wildland fire fighting took a central role within the negotiated omnibus bill. A “fix” for wildfire spending has been debated for a number of years. Division O within the final bill includes the Wildfire Suppression Funding and Forest Management Activities Act that will take spending for fighting wildfires off budget starting in 2020. This fix is intended to allow agencies to not have to borrow against other program funding levels when the cost of fighting fires exceeds the appropriated spending level. Starting in 2020 this off-budget account is authorized at $2.25 billion, ramping up to $2.95 billion in 2027.
There is funding allocated for wildfires within agency budget for 2018. Within the DOI budget, $948 million is allocated toward the department’s wildland fire management with $389 million for suppression operations, which fully funds wildland fire suppression at the 10-year average. Additionally, the agencies are allocated $184 million for fuels management for wildfire prevention. Within the Forest Service budget, there is $2.88 billion allocated for Forest Service wildland fire management of which $1.6 billion is for suppression. The report also includes language supporting hazardous fuel reduction projects, maximizing retention of old growth and large trees to the extent that it promotes stands that are resilient to insects and disease and reduces the risk or extent of wildfires.
Also included within the bill is the permanent reauthorization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. Legislation had passed unanimously out of the House Natural Resources Committee in early March and the bill was added as part of the final omnibus package. Reauthorization of FLTFA will allow the Bureau of Land Management to sell a parcel of land and direct the land sale proceeds into a Federal Land Disposal Account that are then used towards additional land conservation.
In addition, within the Department of Agriculture, funding for the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s conservation operations is set at $874 million, up $9.6 million from fiscal year 2017. This includes $150 million for watershed and flood prevention operations and $10 million for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program. This also includes technical assistance for conservation planning. There is $1.03 billion allocated to help farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners to conserve and protect their land.
Overall, the omnibus appropriations bill avoided many of the potential budget challenges anticipated with the administration’s budget request. The inclusion of the wildfire spending fix and FLTFA are also seen as very positive wins for conservation.