Despite the dominance of appropriations discourse and elections rhetoric so far this year, there are significant opportunities to impact regulatory proposals and legislation in areas like public lands, wildfire, and rural development.
The Forest Service is currently holding a public comment period on the agency’s proposal to amend all 128 forest land management plans in order to conserve and steward old growth forest conditions on national forests and grasslands nationwide. The Forest Service is also accepting comments on an amendment to the Northwest Forest Plan. The deadline to submit comments for both proposals is February 2nd and will be followed by a second round of comments on the accompanying Environmental Impact Statement in late-Spring.
The BLM’s final rule on conservation and landscape health, which clarifies that conservation is a “use” within the Federal Land Policy and Management Act’s multiple-use framework and allows the Bureau to issue “conservation leases” for restoration on public lands, is expected in the next few weeks.
Opportunities to impact forestry and land management appropriations for FY25 will depend largely on the outcome of FY24 appropriations negotiations. If all 12 appropriations bills are not passed by April 30th, a mandatory one percent cut will trigger for all appropriations accounts for the remainder of this fiscal year and FY25.
Addressing the wildfire crisis remains a rare area of bipartisan interest – as shown by the number of notable wildfire bills that have moved out of congressional committees in the first half of the 118th Congress. Expect more batches of bills and a potential wildfire package to surface in the coming months.
Additionally, there’s growing interest among policymakers to develop legislation addressing the recommendations proposed in the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission’s final report. The breadth of the report – 148 recommendations spanning a range of topics from workforce support to smoke impacts – will require stakeholders to quickly organize and identify priority recommendations to effectively engage with interested lawmakers.
The Economic Development Administration (EDA) remains in dire need of reauthorization. EDA, which has been operating on annual appropriations since 2008, needs updated statutory authority to address the modern challenges that face economically-distressed communities. With limited funding up against record demand, the EDA would greatly benefit from expanded disaster recovery authorities, more resources to support capacity building (particularly in rural areas), and more opportunities for technical assistance.
Tribes and partner organizations should capitalize on the momentum created by the most recent White House Tribal Nations Summit and subsequent Executive Order by engaging federal agencies on how they plan to implement the President’s directives to improve tribal access to funding opportunities and increase opportunities to partner with indigenous leaders and practitioners on things like land stewardship.
Wherever you plan to engage, be mindful of the shifting political landscape as we get closer to elections in the Fall – opportunities on Capitol Hill will be few and far between come October.