Today, the 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill, which passed the House on Thursday, passed the Senate and will head to President Trump’s desk for his signature. The bill brings great news about our nation’s roadless areas! A harmful legislative rider that would have eliminated protection for roadless areas in Alaska was completely stripped from the funding package! Washington Wild, in response to these threats to the 2001 Roadless Rule, coordinated a joint comment letter signed by 152 conservation, recreation and wildlife groups, faith leaders, hunting and fishing organizations, local businesses, and elected officials. In addition, we mobilized our members to take action around this issue, asking them to send letters to elected officials opposing this and our voices were heard in defense of our public lands!
In addition, the bill presents a number of other positive pieces around our lands and waters. This bill:
- Increased funding for natural resource agencies above President Trump’s historic proposed budget cuts.
- Included a separate fund to fix the perennial wildfire funding issue, which led to other important funds like road and trail maintenance and watershed restoration activities being “raided” to fight wildifres.
- Added $25 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, whose purpose is to “fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.”
While there area a number of positives included, as with any compromise there are a number of provisions that merit concern. For example, the bill would make funding for watershed restoration activities, supporting fish passage and maintaining recreation oriented roads and trails less certain moving forward.
While we applaud the removal of the legislative roadless rider from this bill, we are still worried about mounting administrative threats to our Roadless Areas. Senator Murkowski (R-AK) has asked the Department of Agriculture that the state of Alaska be exempted from the Roadless Rule. We are concerned that a next step will be a nationwide repeal of roadless protections as was attempted a decade ago. Here in Washington State, over the last year, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has already greenlighted or proposed two projects that allow new road building in IRAs, the Olivine Mine and Excelsior Mine Expansions. Continuing to allow roadbuilding in IRAs and allowing statewide exemptions sets a dangerous precedent for the future management of the Forest and in Roadless Areas. This puts outdoor recreation, healthy forests, clean water, and wildlife habitat at risk.
Here in Washington State we have just over 2 million acres of Roadless Areas. They are a critical part of the quality of life we have come to expect. Roadless forests provide much of our clean and safe drinking water, besides protecting fish and wildlife, and providing amazing back country recreation experiences. Washington’s wild forests are also a significant resource to our local economy. They inspire homegrown companies like REI, Eddie Bauer and the many other local businesses that provide recreation gear. Active outdoor recreation supports more than 200,000 jobs in Washington and contributes more than $26 billion dollars to our state’s economy.
Washington Wild will continue to defend our roadless areas from mounting threats and mobilizing our members to protect these special places from further attacks. Together we can make a difference for our wild places.
If you have a minute, consider sending a thank you email to Senator Maria Cantwell for her leadership efforts on this issue and other efforts to defend our public lands.