After months of debate, and not one, but two government shutdowns, a spending bill for the federal government was finally passed on March 22nd. Much to the pleasant surprise of public lands advocates, Donald Trump’s proposed cuts were nowhere to be seen and instead the budget is actually up by over $3 billion. In America’s system of checks and balances, it is ultimately congress that has the power over the budget, and it looks like public lands advocacy is paying off. Let’s take a look at where that money went.
Department of the Interior
Both the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service’s budgets are up, and are significantly more than what Secretary of the Interior Zinke or President Trump asked for. The Bureau of Land Management’s $1.3 billion budget is $200 million more then requested. The National Park Service was given $3.2 billion, which includes $175 million towards the maintenance backlog and is $634 million more than the budget for 2017. Additionally the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is referred to as “America’s most successful conservation fund” received a $25 million, boost to a total $425 million budget. This fund takes money from offshore oil and gas drilling and uses it to purchase land for further protection and outdoor recreation.
Secretary Zinke has plans to reorganize the Department of the Interior into regions by watershed. The department is currently organized into eight regions, but the reorganization plan would redivide them into thirteen regions. However, this plan now has congressional oversight. A House committee report on the funding bill makes clear that “no agency shall implement any part of a reorganization that modifies regional or State boundaries” without congressional approval.
It seems like massive wildfires have become almost commonplace during the summer in the past years. And fighting these fires is not cheap. Luckily, the new budget fixed the previously dysfunctional way that fire suppression was funded. It now allows firefighting agencies to tap disaster funds when over budget. In addition, $3.8 billion was allocated to firefighting, which is an improvement of $500 million over last year. Unsurprisingly, this part of the budget had wide bipartisan support.
The 2001 Roadless Rule, prohibited construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski sought to exempt Alaska from this rule to allow the Tongass National Forest to be logged. Luckily, this budget defeated those proposals and the Tongass Forest is safe, for now.
So what does all this mean for you as a forestry student? It means that there will be more jobs in the forestry field. And not just seasonal positions. I know here in Zion, we are now able to create seven more permanent positions just in my division. It means the future looks brighter and easier for those hoping for a forestry career. In addition, as always, for every $1 invested to Public Lands, they return $10 to the US economy. So not only is this good news for us, it’s good news for the economy!