President Signs Appropriations Bill with Riders Harmful to Public Lands & Wildlife

(11/14/1997) - Washington, D.C. -- Defenders of Wildlife expressed disillusionment that President Clinton today signed Interior appropriations legislation containing riders harmful to public lands and wildlife. During the past Congress, similar destructive riders were attached to the Interior appropriations bill and were ultimately deleted after the President's opposition and veto.

Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said that, "We are disappointed that the President has not shown his past leadership in vetoing this bill, which is loaded with anti-environmental riders. In the FY 1998 Interior appropriations bill, Congress set terrible precedents for weakening protection for public lands and endangered species. By not opposing them with his veto pen, the President will give them encouragement to seek even worse next year."

A coalition of conservationists had urged President Clinton to veto the bill as he had in the past Congress, pointing to a number of controversial riders that would jeopardize the national forests, parks, and other public lands and wildlife covered by appropriations for the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service.

A list of the controversial riders follows. They include riders that would expand federal subsidies for the timber industry, prevent reintroduction of grizzly bears into Idaho wilderness and hinder proper application of the Endangered Species Act, override court-ordered grazing reforms on national forests, block priority land acquisition needs at both federal and state levels, and prevent the Forest Service from updating its forest management plans and thus better managing forests for conservation and other uses.

Moreover, the bill sets a "terrible precedent" of allowing use of Land & Water Conservation Fund monies for non-land acquisition purposes. These purposes include politically motivated payoffs for areas where two high-profile land acquisitions are ongoing -- the New World Mine outside Yellowstone National Park and the Headwaters Forest in California.

The new law allows for $22 million to be siphoned away for economic support to Humboldt County, California and repair and maintenance of the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming.

Schlickeisen notes that, "This diversion of funds represents a radical departure from the original purpose of the LWCF, which is to reinvest revenue from the development of offshore oil leases -- non-renewable resources -- into acquisition and permanent protection of key land, water, and open space resources." LWCF allocations are grossly inadequate to meet even the backlog of acquisition needs in the four land management agencies, which total in the billions, and state assistance under the fund has been zeroed out in recent years.

The conservationists note that the bill also contains some good provisions that they support, but Schlickeisen notes, "It does more harm than good. The bill makes too many concessions to the extremists in Congress who've made deals with corporate timber and livestock interests at the expense of America's public lands and wildlife."

Destructive Riders in Fy '98 Interior Appropriations Bill

  • Land and Water Conservation Fund, Authorizing Language
     This provision sets out numerous requirements on the New World Mine and Headwaters acquisitions. For example, it would weaken protection for habitat that has been determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be critical for the survival and recovery of the marbled murrelet -- a rare seabird dependent on old-growth forests -- once a controversial conservation agreement is implemented. It also gives the authorizing committees license to impose any number of additional burdensome conditions on the acquisitions through riders to the FY98 Supplemental Appropriations bill, expected early next year. The Administration currently has the legal authority to acquire these parcels without further Congressional action. Any additional requirements will be onerous and time consuming and will undermine the purpose and inherent flexibility of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This could set the stage for Congress to insist that all acquisitions have specific enacting legislation -- even though general authorization exists -- and result in the loss of numerous conservation opportunities.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund, Diversion of Funds: The Balanced Budget Agreement provided $700 million above the President's request for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in FY98. Language in the Conference Report would allow an unspecified portion of the $700 million to be used for maintenance by the four land management agencies and allow for $22 million to be siphoned away for economic support to Humboldt County, California and repair and maintenance of the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming. Any diversion of funds from LWCF to meet the maintenance needs of our federal lands or for political pay-offs in areas where acquisitions are on-going is a radical departure from the original purposes of the fund to reinvest revenue from the development of non-renewable resources into acquisition and permanent protection of key land, water, and open space resources. LWCF allocations are grossly inadequate to meet even the backlog of acquisition needs in the four land management agencies which total in the billions, and state assistance under the fund has been zeroed out in recent years.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund, State Side Matching Grant Program: The Conference report omits the $100 million initially provided by the Senate for the State-side matching grant program of the LWCF. Most of the above groups supported this allocation and believe that the matching grant program is an important vehicle for providing healthy and safe recreational opportunities in local communities. These groups also believe the Federal government should demonstrate leadership in reestablishing our nation's commitment to our communities by revitalizing the state-side of the fund. Cities, towns and counties will continue to go without critically needed assistance in the acquisition of open space and development of recreational opportunities.

  • National Forest Road Purchaser Credit Program:  The environmental community has strongly supported the elimination of all taxpayer subsidies for Forest Service logging road construction, and we have consistently supported efforts to eliminate the Forest Service Purchaser Road Credit Program. Despite the narrowest of margins on votes on this issue in both the House and the Senate, the Conference Report eliminates the current cap on the use of Purchaser Road Credits in the National Forest System. This provision is a blank check to the Forest Service to exchange millions and millions of dollars worth of public timber for environmentally destructive logging roads.
  • National Forest Planning: The forest planning rider is a blatant attempt to place political pressure on a scientifically-based process the administration is currently undertaking to review and make recommendations for changes to existing national forest planning regulations. On August 15, 1997, the administration requested recommendations for independent scientists, legal experts, and economists to serve on an advisory committee to review current forest planning regulations. The administration is currently reviewing over 100 experts recommended, via public comments, for inclusion on the panel and is soon expected to announce its membership. The rider, added to the bill prohibits the revision of any new forest plans not currently underway until such time as final or interim final regulations are adopted. The appropriators are seeking to use the rider to resuscitate a set of discredited planning regulations first developed under the Bush administration and unveiled in the early days of the Clinton administration.
  • Log Export Rider: Title VI of the Conference Report, which has never been subject to public hearings or any authorization consideration, would drastically reduce the effectiveness of the law pertaining to the export of federal timber by facilitating the substitution of federal logs for those exported from private lands. In short, the barriers to enforcement of this proposal are so great that the government would be forced to rely on the voluntary compliance of timber purchasers, exporters, and mills. This proposed language should be rejected. The provision would benefit a select few large timber corporations in the State of Washington at the expense of small independent mills.
  • Grazing on Arizona and New Mexico National Forests: This rider would overturn a federal court ruling and injunction against the Forest Service on more than one-half of the grazing leases on eleven national forests in Arizona and New Mexico. The public forest, water, and range resources of the National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico have suffered resource damage as a result of poorly managed logging and grazing. Recently, in the face of widespread environmental damage and poor management practices, a Federal judge took action to enforce federal environmental laws on these lands. This language would postpone necessary management reforms and allow continued damage to federal streams, water resources, and wildlife. This rider would allow excessive grazing on national forests to continue to cause mudslides and runoff that threaten to ruin spawning sites of highly-endangered fish and otherwise reduce the populations and habitat of more than 20 endangered species. A task force of Forest Service biologists recently reported that such abuses are widespread in the Service in these two states and that allowing continued grazing in violation of the law puts a greater burden on law-abiding users and taxpayers to restore wildlife and range resources that rightly belong to the public and to future generations.
  • Recreation Residence Special Use Fee Implementation: This provision postpones the collection of new and higher Special Use Fees based on new property appraisals. This proposal would benefit a select few and deprive the American taxpayers of fair compensation for the use of public lands. This is inappropriate special interest legislation. This is a Senator Craig rider to benefit his wealthy constituents who have recreation homes on national forest land from the rent increase that happens every 10 years.
  • Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Management Project: This provision to extend and revise the community economic studies for the ICBEMP process elevates a single issue for inappropriate single interest legislation.
  • Alaska Spruce Bark Beetle Task Force: This Federal Advisory Committee Act exemption is inappropriate. An adequate evaluation of spruce bark beetles in Alaska and the Kenai region, considering in particular the impacts of any proposed actions on brown bears and other fish and wildlife, cannot reasonably be completed by the accelerated deadline of June 30, 1998. The task force should have until June 30, 1999 to complete its report and action plan. The Alaska Congressional Delegation want to speed the EIS process so loggers can cut down Brown bear habitat on the Kenai peninsula.
  • Grizzly Bear Reintroduction Planning: This provision would prohibit reintroduction of grizzly bears into the Bitterroot ecosystem of Idaho and Montana and is inappropriate interference in an ongoing planning process and an attack on the Endangered Species Act. Stopping the reintroduction program will prevent the restoration of an animal about which Americans care deeply.
  • Brooks Camp, Katmai National Park: Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park in Alaska is renowned worldwide for the unique opportunity it offers to observe brown bears in their natural habitat. The National Park Service recently completed a plan to relocate a lodge in the Brooks Camp and place restrictions on the number of visitors. Despite this plan, the Conference Report prohibits federal funds for Katmai to be used to relocate the lodge and, worse, it actually requires the Park Service to increase visitation ion the current location. By increasing visitation in an area with high bear populations, this language would increase the possibility for human-bear conflicts. This language is a clear threat to public safety.
  • Resource Planning Act: There is no justification for this provision. While not perfect, the RPA provides useful information to the public about the future plans of the Forest Service for managing the National Forests. Timber Senators and the Timber corporations do not want the Forest Service to look at the future on the national forest system or plan for its future because when the Forest Service does look into the future logging will not be the primary use of the forests. It will be recreation.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270