Department of Interior, Forest Service get Halloween treat

Oct 29, 2009

WASHINGTON – After eight years coming up on the short end of Halloween-like pranks, the Interior Department and Forest Service are getting a treat this year – a $4.6 billion funding increase for 2010. The 16.8-percent increase passed by both the U.S. House and Senate today will provide a much needed boost for a wide range of initiatives including wildfire suppression, climate change research and the National Wildlife Refuge System. The measure now moves to the desk of President Obama, who is expected to sign the measure before the clock strikes midnight on Saturday evening.

“President Obama and Congress are giving the American people a bag full of treats to enjoy by increasing funding for the Department of Interior,” TWS President William H. Meadows said of the $32.24 billion package. “We’re going to have more resources to fight wildfires, fund scientific research that will help us better respond to climate change, and conserve land across the country. There will be no lumps of coal for the environment this year.”

One of the most important components of the Interior funding bill is the creation of new funds the Department of the Interior and Forest Service will use to cover the wildly escalating costs of fire suppression. Borrowing from the concept of the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME Act) that the House had passed previously, the new funds will reduce the need for the agencies to transfer funds from vital programs and services to pay for wildfire suppression.

The bill also provides approximately $385 million for research and development that will examine the effects of climate change on the U.S. and what else can be done to help the country respond to the problems it poses.

According to TWS appropriations analyst Alan Rowsome, the 2010 funding bill is a boon for critical conservation programs including the National Wildlife Refuge System: It will see a $40 million increase. “The budget for our refuges has been raked over the coals so badly that some refuges had to shut down,” Rowsome said. “This increase is long overdue.”

The bill also provides:

  • $90 million for the Legacy Road and Trail Remediation Program, a program that restores healthy watersheds and improves recreational opportunities by decommissioning obsolete roads and maintaining trails.
  • $75 million for the National Landscape Conservation System, which protects some of the most spectacular scenery managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
  • $306 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that takes revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling to support the conservation of America's lands and waters. “This improved funding level is a step in the right direction, but we do want to see LWCF get the $900 million it is meant to receive each year,” Rowsome said.
  • $77 million for the Forest Legacy Program, which will preserve working forests by conserving open space, wildlife habitat and clean water while allowing for sustainable timber harvesting.

“It may be Halloween,” Meadows said, “but what the president and Congress have done this week to protect America’s public lands fills me with Thanksgiving Day gratitude.”