Rid(er)ing into the sunset

 

Last week's heavily wrangled 2011 federal spending deal brought with it some unexpected baggage. Along with $38 billion in budget cuts, unrelated riders attached to the bill derailed the controversial Bureau of Land Management Wild Lands order and yanked Northern Rockies gray wolves from the endangered species list. Deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and climate-related programs were also part of the bill, which marked the largest single reduction in federal domestic spending in history.

Democrats claimed a Pyrrhic victory after doing damage control on the House version of the bill, which had included more severe cuts and a rider to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. But major cuts in health, education and  environmental protections remain after negotiations, clearly favoring the Republican agenda.

Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson's rider to halt funding to the BLM Wild Lands order was delivered with high rhetoric on its impacts to ranching, energy production and recreation.“To that list, I would add my own deep concern that with this initiative, the Department has overstepped its authority,” he noted in a statement Tuesday. "Only Congress has the authority to create new land designations, and I intend to restore that authority by including this provision in the (continuing resolution).”

But the BLM Wild Lands order, announced in December, simply gave guidance to the BLM to inventory "lands with wilderness characteristics" and protect eligible "Wild Lands" -- a designation that would not actually preclude development -- through a public planning process. The Wild Lands order restored BLM's original authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 to manage public land for multiple uses after a 2003 Bush administration policy prioritized development, according to the Department of Interior.

What, exactly, Wild Lands have to do with the federal budget is unclear, as is the rationale to bypass the public process and delist an endangered species through Congress -- another first in U.S. history. Upon passage of the spending resolution, management of Northern Rockies gray wolves will be turned back to Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah, while the Wyoming wolf management plan must first get federal approval. Introduced by rider-happy Rep. Simpson, and Sen. John Tester, D-MT, the wolf rider also bans "judicial review" of the delisting measure, apparently side-stepping future court challenges.

“Tester’s rider is not only a disaster for wolf recovery, it opens the door for every self-interested politician to try to strip protection away from local endangered species,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of The Center for Biological Diversity in a press release on Tuesday.

Aside from those provisions, the spending bill itself also slashed a laundry list of health and environmental programs.

  • EPA's budget was cut by 16 percent -- $1.6 billion -- mostly from state-level programs, including $997 million from the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds that help communities maintain clean drinking water and sewer systems.
  • Climate change programs took a wallop as well, losing $49 million for EPA and the Department of Interior, while the proposed Climate Service under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was chopped completely, hampering efforts to accurately gauge the effects of climate change.
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund, used to set aside land for recreation and conservation purposes, lost $149 million, after being spared an additional $100 million cut that was in the House version of the bill.
  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy were cut by $438 million.

 

The 2011 spending resolution will be put to a House vote today and will then head back to the Senate for a final vote. Negotiations on a 2012 budget plan are already underway, promising yet another round of consequential political theater.

Nathan Rice is an intern for High Country News.

Photo of gray wolf in Yellowstone courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • CORPORATE & GRANTS PARTNER MANAGER
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation Corporate Partnerships Manager February 2020 www.ForeverOurRivers.org Forever Our Rivers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in late 2016 with the mission...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...