Policy Update Mar 9, 2018

Position on Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations

NPCA submitted the following position to congressional leadership and members of the appropriations committees during negotiations regarding FY18 final appropriations.

NPCA encourages Congress to exclude anti-environmental riders from the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations bill. More specifically, NPCA has concerns about the below noted issues and existing legislative provisions.

For the health and preservation of America’s national treasures, the environment and climate on which they rely, and the long-term protection of resources, we hope you will craft a bill that protects our national parks in perpetuity.

In addition to the existing provisions in the House and Senate Appropriations bills, which are noted below, NPCA would like to call your attention to two additional, potentially pending issues. These include wildfire disaster funding and the Sturgeon lawsuit (Alaska).

There are at least 15 National Parks that border national forest lands. Given the impact fire borrowing has on land management agency budgets, the most important step Congress can take to support healthy forest restoration and provide the Forest Service the capacity it needs to effectively manage national forests, as well as support the Department of the Interior to administer its lands, is to fix fire suppression funding. It is in NPCA’s longstanding interest to see a permanent fix included in any end-of-year package. This comprehensive fire funding solution must stabilize budgets and address the increasing ten-year average and its eroding impact to agency budgets. Our hope is that the opportunity for a permanent fix, one that currently has support from both chambers and both sides of the aisle, is not held hostage by other potential policy provisions. A permanent fire funding fix supports the management of our public lands nationwide, a benefit that does not prioritize one place over another. As such, we urge you to include a comprehensive fix in the omnibus, giving it the bipartisan prioritization it deserves.

NPCA understands that there also may be discussions in omnibus negotiations regarding the Sturgeon lawsuit (named after plaintiff John Sturgeon). We urge appropriators to allow this issue to be decided in the courts, not in an appropriations package. It is complex case and has broad sweeping implications for land and water management agencies nationwide.

The Sturgeon lawsuit, first filed in 2011 in the Federal District Court of Alaska and joined by the state of Alaska, argues that the National Park Service, and by extension the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, do not have any authority to manage uses on navigable rivers and lakes within federal lands in Alaska. The District Court judge, a Ronald Reagan appointee, ruled in favor of the Park Service. The case was appealed to the 9th Circuit, which also ruled in favor of the Park Service. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, which vacated the 9th Circuit decision but explicitly refused to rule on the merits of the case. In October 2017, the 9th Circuit again ruled in favor of the Park Service. Mr. Sturgeon has now filed a petition for cert with the Supreme Court and is awaiting word on whether the court will rehear his case.

Although the Sturgeon case is about hovercraft use, a decision or omnibus policy provision in favor of the plaintiff could mean that the Park Service and other agencies could not limit other uses like large-scale placer mining, or large-scale commercial operations on most rivers and lakes on federal lands, no matter the impact on the park or designated wilderness lands. Federal agencies charged by Congress with protecting wild and scenic rivers would be unable to regulate those rivers. The state would also be free to use aircraft to hunt and kill wolves on frozen rivers and lakes on national park and refuge lands in the winter. In addition, the Native American Rights Fund has argued that a decision for the plaintiffs could end Alaska Natives preferential subsistence rights for fish on federal land. Again, the Sturgeon case and its components have no place in omnibus discussions.

While not all will be considered for the final bill, the following provisions of greatest concern to NPCA can be found in the current base Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bills, H.R. 3354 and the Senate Chairmen’s Mark. NPCA opposes the following policy riders:

Block ESA Protections for Wolves in the Continental U.S. (House Sec. 117) – This provision would block federal funding for the endangered gray wolf throughout the continental United States. The gray wolf is currently listed as endangered in most of the lower-48 states.

Block Updates to National Ozone Standard (House Sec. 432) – This provision would permanently block or delay updates to the national ozone standard, preventing clean air for both urban and rural communities, public lands and national parks.

Upends 15-year Planning Process on New Plan for Dog Management in Golden Gate National Recreation Area (House Sec. 446) – This provision would discard a 15-year planning process by the National Park Service to ensure all recreationists can enjoy the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).

Make Boundary Waters Land in Superior National Forest Available for Destructive Mining (House Sec. 449) – This provision would block the ongoing two-year Forest Service study of mining in the Boundary Waters watershed and make 234,328 acres of public lands and wildlife habitat on Superior National Forest in Northeast Minnesota available for destructive sulfide-ore mining. These waters, their wildlife and recreational users are all connected to Voyageurs National Park. Mining impacts to the Boundary Waters will inevitably damage park resources.

Punitive Elimination of Authority to Designate New National Heritage Areas (House Sec. 451) – This provision would eliminate the authority to establish new National Heritage Areas (NHAs), which commemorate and protect stories and resources that are regionally distinct and nationally significant, anywhere in the State of Colorado based upon the whim of one member of Congress.

Blocking Wildlife Conservation Rules (House Sec. 454) – This provision would block implementation of critical rules regulating non-subsistence hunting in Alaska national preserves. This section could cause an unnecessary legal conflict between the State of Alaska and National Park Service over wildlife management. The National Park Service does not allow aggressive sport- hunting practices including spotlighting denning bears and cubs as they hibernate. The agency clarified this in an open, public process last year resulting in a regulation. The regulation does not prohibit hunting—it only addresses these highly aggressive tactics. In contrast, the state’s regulations authorize aggressive predator control hunting practices in national parks and national wildlife refuges in contravention of the agencies’ Congressional mandate to manage for “natural diversity”. This amendment will not serve the public, it will only set back efforts to clarify appropriate National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law and policies.

Undermine Chesapeake Bay Cleanup (House Sec. 455) – This provision would undermine the successful cooperative federalism of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup and will severely hamper progress being made to clean up local waters.

Block Endangered Species Act (ESA) Protections for Numerous Species (House Sec. 458) – This provision would devastate conservation and recovery efforts for listed species by blocking federal funding for a protected species any time the FWS fails to meet its obligation to complete a five-year review of the species’ status as required by the ESA.

Great Lakes & Wyoming wolves (Senate Sec. 120, House Sec. 116) - This provision would remove existing federal protections for wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and codify a recent court decision that stripped ESA protections for wolves in Wyoming. NPCA opposes delisting the wolf in Wyoming and congressional delisting in general as it bypasses the ESA process. Furthermore, we oppose the language in the provision that blocks future judicial review.

Reverse 404© “veto” of the Yazoo Pumps project (Senate Sec. 433) – would resurrect the Yazoo Backwater Pumps Project in Mississippi, essentially reversing the Bush administration’s “veto” of this project and would lead to the unacceptable damage of 200,000 acres of ecologically-rich wetlands.

EPA and Army may withdraw the Waters of the United States rule (Senate Sec. 434, House Sec. 431) – Exempts the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Water Rule from many requirements under the law. National parks are inseparable from the waters that are in, surround, and flow through them. Because many park waters originate on lands outside of park boundaries, where beyond boundary activities impact park water quality and availability, the National Park Service often relies on the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to exercise their Clean Water Act authority to prevent impairment of park waters. In fact, fifty-six percent of national park units have at least one waterbody that is impaired. The clarifications in the Clean Water Rule help protect and restore the waters flowing in and through our national parks.

NEPA for forest management activities (Senate Sec. 505) – This provision would limit National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental analysis consideration of alternatives to action (the proposed forest management activity) or no action. This “take it or leave it” approach strikes at the heart of NEPA and is the antithesis of the thoughtful project review that leads to win-win outcomes under law. National parks depend on healthy adjacent landscapes, including national forests. It is critical that project analysis remain as robust as possible to ensure landscape and wildlife protections within and beyond our national forests.

Roadless rule in Alaska (Senate Sec. 509) – This provision would exempt the state of Alaska from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, one of the most significant forest conservation measures of the last century that protects nearly 50 million acres of wild national forest lands nationwide from logging and new logging roads. Passage of this provision jeopardizes the protection of roadless areas throughout the nation.