Congress today released the long-delayed final appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022, the spending period that started on October 1, 2021 and ends on September 30, 2022. Despite unified Democrat control of the House, Senate, and White House, the bill falls far short of funding much-needed environmental protections, and contains a rider that prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting the greater sage-grouse, an iconic Western bird headed towards extinction.
Among its provisions, the appropriations bill only raises funding to the Department of the Interior by 5% from the past fiscal year—effectively a decrease given rising inflation. Funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) remained static, despite a call by WildEarth Guardians and other environmental groups for a $13.6 million increase necessary to process the backlog of 430 species currently awaiting protection.
“To say we are disappointed is an understatement,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program Director with WildEarth Guardians. “The ESA has proven to be an incredibly effective tool for preventing species extinction, but Congress has failed to fully fund the Act for decades. Despite a Democratic-controlled Congress and clear evidence of an extinction crisis not in some mythical future, but happening all around us, imperiled species once again were treated as a mere afterthought by federal elected officials.”
A key program for protecting and restoring ESA habitat on Forest Service lands was also shortchanged. The Legacy Roads and Trails program specifically aims to reduce impacts from the 370,000 miles of roads and infrastructure crisscrossing national forest lands and waters. “Congress tossed a penny at a $3 billion problem,” said Marlies Wierenga, Pacific Northwest Conservation Manager with WIldEarth Guardians. “Salmon, bull trout and steelhead are blocked at every turn by roads and culverts as they try to move through these disconnected streams. This failure by Congress to see what’s right in front of their eyes is baffling.”
The appropriations bill also includes a rider that prevents any funding from being used to protect the greater sage-grouse, which inhabits the vast sagebrush ecosystem of the intermountain West. Greater sage-grouse populations have declined by 80% since 1965, and by 40% since 2002. According to recent monitoring by the Bureau of Land Management, wildfire, cheatgrass invasion, and development destroyed 1.9 million acres of the bird’s priority habitat between 2012 and 2018.
“The sage-grouse rider represents the worst sort of politics,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species advocate with WildEarth Guardians. “The science couldn’t be more clear: greater sage-grouse need protection now more than ever. Congress’ decision to add this rider in the face of continued sage-grouse population declines, and in the midst of an ongoing extinction crisis across the West, is unconscionable.”
The House will likely vote on the bill later today.
Lindsay Larris, WildEarth Guardians, 310-923-1465, email@example.com
Marlies Wierenga, WildEarth Guardians, 503-278-0669, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe Bushyhead, WildEarth Guardians, 505-660-0284, email@example.com