Wolf, grouse riders fly with budget bill

July 14, 2017 GMT

Wyoming’s wolves are back under state management, but a U.S. House committee would like to ensure the species never again becomes a protected, federally managed species in the Equality State.

Such a ban against Endangered Species Act legal challenges could be the result if a rider is tacked onto an appropriations bill that proposes funding for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and other federal programs.

U.S. Rep Betty McCollum, D-Minn., is one congresswoman frustrated by the riders a House Appropriations subcommittee failed to cut as the bill went through a markup session Wednesday.

“I want to express my concern and disappointment with the 16 partisan riders in this bill,” McCollum said in general debate on the House floor. “These provisions seek to turn back protections for endangered species and undermine clean air and clean water protections.

“These pieces of legislation do not belong in an appropriations bill,” she said. “They undermine important environmental laws and endanger public health and safety and, in my opinion, they benefit polluters.”

Congress’ fiscal year 2018 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill targets all wolves south of the Canadian border, including highly endangered Mexican wolves, by prohibiting spending any Endangered Species Act funds on their management.

Another rider on the bill continues a prohibition against using federal funds to consider sage grouse as a threatened species.

Funding levels to agencies that do business in Jackson Hole and programs that support them are reduced almost across the board, but are funded well above levels requested by the Trump administration.

In total, the bill slashes funding by $824 million to Interior, the EPA, Forest Service, Indian Health Service, and other independent and related agencies. However, the total, $31.4 billion, is $4.3 billion above the President’s budget request.

As drafted, wildland firefighting programs get $3.4 billion — $334 million below the 2017 level.

A program vital to Teton County’s finances, Payments In Lieu of Taxes, is funded at the same level: $465 million. PILT funds compensate counties in rural areas with federal lands for revenue lost from a lack of property taxes.

The National Park Service’s allocation would fall slightly, from about $2.96 billion to $2.9 billion.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the National Elk Refuge, also gets cut and ends up with $1.5 billion — $38 million less than a year ago.

Funding headed to the Bureau of Land Management decreases as well, falling $46 million to $1.2 billion.

Like the Minnesota congresswoman, wildlife advocacy groups are also upset about the off-topic partisan riders that remain in the critical funding legislation. Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark called the budget “dirty” in a statement, and an escalation of the attack on endangered species, including wolves.

“It leaves America’s wolves sitting in the Endangered Species Act emergency room and orders our wildlife agencies not to treat them,” said Clark, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The drastic cut in funding for new species under the ESA will result in further delays in listing decisions for many deserving species, leading to longer recovery times or possibly even more extinctions.”