Interior Bill Finally Finished - Forests and Grasslands Win Some and Lose Some

Steve Holmer, American Lands

The FY 2000 Interior Appropriations Bill agreed to last week by the White House and Congress offers a mixed blessing to the National Forests and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The survey and manage rider was dropped which will greatly benefit the Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest and northern California. Coupled with the recent agreement to settle the survey and manage lawsuit, there could be as much as a two-year delay in the Forest Service program to liquidate the remaining old growth in the matrix lands.

Last minute riders to stop the Administration's roadless area policy and to allow the removal of mountain tops in West Virginia were removed from the bill. Another rider preventing grizzly bear reintroduction was also dropped.

The rider to prevent the Department of Interior from issuing new hardrock mining regulations was modified to allow the Department to issue the regulations, so long as they are not inconsistent with recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences. A rider to prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service from taking steps to protect endangered Pacific Northwest salmon in Alaskan waters was dropped.

The Administration gained significant funding increases for their conservation priorities. The Lands Legacy Initiative will receive $550 million next year to acquire threatened habitats. There is also a near doubling of funds to remove the Elwha Dam on the Olympic Peninsula. The bill increases funding on the National Forests for road maintenance ($21 million), Inland Fish Management ($4 million), Anadromous Fish Habitat Management ($3 million) and efforts to control the Asian longhorn beetle.

In other areas, however, the National Forests will suffer due to increases in logging and roadbuilding subsidies and a number of riders that suspend key environmental laws affecting how the public lands are managed. The timber sales management line item was increased $27.7 million above the Forest Service request. Though the total is $2.5 million less than last year's budget the agency anticipates logging levels will remain unchanged from 1999.

There was also a $2 million increase in funding for the construction of logging roads. In addition, $5 million was approved for increased logging in Alaska and $2 million was allocated for clearcutting aspen stands in Colorado. A particularly threatening rider that remains in the bill will allow the Bureau of Land Management to reissue grazing permits for up to 10 years without completing environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act. The rider permitting lead mining on Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest also remains in the bill.

The rider to increase the number of stewardship contracts was modified in a way that could greatly expand the scale and duration of these projects, which allow the Forest Service to trade National Forest trees to pay for services. The original rider limited the number of contracts the agency could issue to one per pilot project. Under the new rider the agency can grant an unlimited number of contracts to carry out each pilot project.

A compromise was reached on the mining rider that suspends a 1997 Administration policy to limit the area that mining companies can dump waste on public lands to five acres. Under the compromise, mining operations in place before the ruling would be exempt, but operations that proposed expanding after the 1997 ruling would have to adhere to it. The mine at Buckhorn Mountain was exempted from the Administration's