September 25, 2009

Crapo, Risch Score Victories In Interior Bill For Forest Management

Funding for forest restoration, fire fighting, Owyhees included in Interior bill

Washington, DC -Collaborative forest land management and an increase in fire fighting funds were given priority as Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch supported amendments to the Interior Appropriations bill. The bill passed the full Senate by a 77 to 21 vote.

One amendment provided $10 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Fund, a special fund created in the Forest Landscape Restoration Act to carry out locally-driven, collaborative land use activities. Senator Crapo was an original co-sponsor of the Forest Landscape Restoration Act, which was introduced last year and signed into law in January as part of a larger lands package.

"The funding will create new jobs and new ideas for the ongoing management of our public lands," Crapo said. "Forest communities will benefit and so will the collaborative process, as we reduce the risk of fires, improve habitat, protect homeowners and create employment."

Crapo and Risch also supported another amendment to establish a separate fund in the Forest Service's budget to combat emergency wildfires. The Forest Service is frequently forced to divert money from planned forest projects to fire fighting efforts; the amendment restructures wildfire funding to provide stability and certainty in the Forest Service budget, so that funds for restoration and recreation no longer need to be diverted for emergencies. The FLAME (Federal Land Assistance Management and Enhancement) Act provisions ensure that more than $800 million will be set aside in a contingency reserve fund to fight fires in the event of extreme fire seasons.

"The costs of catastrophic wildfires over the past decade have grown significantly. Those costs have taken funding intended for the management of our public lands. This Act protects that funding and allows foresters and other land managers to clear the backlog of projects to better protect and preserve our public lands," said Risch.

Language was also added to the bill to protect those holding special use authorizations on Forest Service land from seeing a large increase in user fees. The amendment ensures that Idahoans will be able to continue to easily access and enjoy Forest Service lands.

Crapo also authored language included in the final bill that will help fund protections outlined in the Owyhee Initiative (passed earlier this year as part of an omnibus lands package). The language calls for $1 million to protect the landscape and cultural resources of the Owyhees.
The overall Interior spending bill now goes to a House-Senate conference committee to work out the different language contained in the versions passed by both chambers.