Appropriations Update on Fiscal Year 2017 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Spending Bills

Recently, both the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (Interior Subcommittees) released their individual fiscal year (FY) 2017 spending bills. These bills provide the House and the Senate funding recommendations for the USDA Forest Service (Forest Service), the Department of the Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other related agencies beginning October 1, 2016.  See details on the Interior bills and items of interest to the CWSF and WFLC included in the CWSF Legislative and Policy Update - FY 2017 Appropriations.

Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act of 2016

In late May, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Jim Risch (R-ID) released a bipartisan legislative discussion draft titled Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act of 2016. The draft reflects the efforts by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to address wildfire funding, fire operations, and forest management.

Title I of the discussion draft that addresses the issue of wildfire budgeting. The draft proposes to amend the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to allow a new budget authority in the form of a budget cap adjustment for wildfire suppression operations. The new authority would begin in fiscal year (FY) 2017 and the new budget authority would only be available to the Forest Service and DOI once all appropriated suppression funding (100 percent of the 10-year average) has been exhausted. In ‘light’ wildfire seasons where appropriated suppression funds are not exhausted, excess dollars may be used for fuels reduction projects in and around at-risk communities, to protect high-value watersheds, and to reduce suppression costs over time.

Title II of the discussion draft addresses Wildfire Response and Preparedness while Title III undertakes Public Land and Forest Management items. Several elements of these Titles include:

  • Establishing a single system for national wildland firefighting credentials by the USDA and DOI Secretaries (Secretaries), acting jointly with State agencies that have primary authority over fire suppression.
  • Directing the Secretaries to jointly update and publish the list of at-risk communities developed pursuant to Title IV of the 2001 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill and further, subject to appropriation, directs the Secretaries to provide financial assistance to at-risk communities in planning and preparing for wildfire.
  • Requiring the Secretaries, working in cooperative with the FEMA Administrator, to develop fire risk maps for all undeveloped wildland urban interface lands.
  • Limiting the number of alternatives considered for environmental assessments and environmental impact statements pertaining to certain forest management activities developed through a collaborative process or covered by a Community Wildfire Protection Plan to the action/no-action alternatives.
  • Requiring the USDA Secretary to conduct a comprehensive inventory of young-growth timber stands on the Tongass National Forest before a Record of Decision may be issued for any plan amendment to the Tongass Forest Plan that includes a transition to young-growth management.
  • Establishing a pilot program to carry out accelerated hazardous fuels reduction projects and to treat slash in ponderosa pine and dry-site mixed conifer forests that are prone to severe wildfires and that are, or that historically were, comprised of primarily ponderosa pine.

Recent Congressional Hearings and Engagement

Chris Maisch, Alaska State Forester, recently testified on behalf of the Alaska Division of Forestry and the National Association of State Foresters at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. CWSF assisted Chris and NASF to develop testimony. Although the field hearing’s purpose was to “examine the challenges and impacts of federal regulations and wildfire management on outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing opportunities, and tourism on public lands on the Kenai Peninsula,” Chris also had the opportunity to provide initial comments on the Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act discussion draft. A copy of his testimony can be found here. In addition, the National Association of State Foresters submitted comments to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Budget Committee on the bipartisan discussion draft. Those comments can be found here.