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My Priorities for Idaho as House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman

By Congressman Mike Simpson

My Priorities for Idaho as House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman

“Over the past few years, we have been reminded again that being outside in nature is good for the human soul.  This is no secret to those of us privileged to live in Idaho, where we enjoy an abundance of mountains, forests, rivers, and other wild spaces where we can experience the beauty and wildness of nature.  Access to these resources is one of the best things about living in our state.

“If you’ve lived in Idaho for any amount of time, you also know that we tend to love our parks, forests, and public lands to death.  Backlogged maintenance, wildfire issues, and land management decisions have a direct impact on our state’s economy and on the lives of Idahoans who live, work, or recreate on public lands. 

“Since nearly two-thirds of Idaho is federal land, our public land management policies have a direct impact on our state’s economy and on the lives of Idahoans who live, work, and recreate on or near federal land.  This is why, as a lifelong Idahoan, I have spent my career in Congress working to ensure that land management agencies are good neighbors and have the tools to manage our lands effectively and efficiently. 

“One way I have done this is by authoring the framework for the Great American Outdoors Act, which was passed by Congress with wide bipartisan support and signed into law on August 4, 2020.  Historically the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been an important tool for improving outdoor recreation and providing for public lands conservation, but for years LWCF went dramatically underfunded.  This left needed maintenance projects sitting on the shelf, with the backlog growing longer by the year.  The Great American Outdoors Act addressed this problem both by securing permanent funding for LWCF and by creating a new fund specifically to address the backlog of deferred maintenance on public lands.

“Several important projects in Idaho have been funded because of the Great American Outdoors Act.  In the Boise National Forest, it has funded bridge replacement, trail maintenance, water system improvements for rental cabins, and even toilet replacements at campgrounds.  In the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, projects like trailhead improvement, road repairs, and much-needed face-lifts at campgrounds have been funded.  Projects like trail maintenance, bridge replacement, and forest road repair in the Salmon-Challis National Forest are also being completed through the Great American Outdoors Act.

“Another way I have worked to ensure that future generations of Idahoans will be able to enjoy our state’s beautiful natural resources is to make sure that public land managers have the tools to address the growing threat of wildfire to our natural spaces and to our federal budget.  As the severity of wildfires has dramatically increased over the past few decades, so have costs for managing those fires.  This forced the Forest Service and the BLM to borrow from non-fire accounts, like maintenance and other active management accounts, in order to pay for emergency fire suppression.  Fire borrowing became a common practice instead of the emergency measure it was intended to be, and it drained the accounts intended for projects that would have help prevent catastrophic fires in the first place.

“As you may know, in 2018 Congress passed legislation that I authored to fix the broken way we budget for wildfires.  Any other natural disaster would be funded through emergency measures, and this law makes sure that catastrophic wildfires are treated the same way for budgetary purposes.  In doing so, it restores the funding intended for those important land management projects, like hazardous fuels removal, that make our forests healthier and more resistant to fire. 

“During the 117th Congress, I expanded on that work by cosponsoring legislation like the National Prescribed Fire Act, which would have proactively improved forest health by increasing the number and size of prescribed fires conducted on federal lands.  I also cosponsored the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which would have expedited projects on public and tribal lands under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) in order to ensure that important forest management projects are actually completed instead of left languishing in piles of paperwork.  In addition, I cosponsored the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land Act, which improves access to public lands by digitizing and standardizing mapping records.  I am pleased that this bill was signed into law last year, and I look forward to seeing the impact it has in improving public land access in Idaho.

“As the 118th Congress gets underway, I am thrilled to return as Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.  This subcommittee oversees funding for public lands agencies like the Forest Service, the BLM, and the National Parks Service, among others, and as chairman I have a unique opportunity to influence federal policies that directly impact Idaho.  When I served as ranking member and then chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee from 2009 to 2013, I brought Idaho’s perspective to issues like grazing on public lands, forest management, and the Endangered Species Act, and I played a significant role in combating regulatory overreach by the EPA.  In returning to this role, I look forward to continuing to work to ensure that our public lands agencies have the funding they need to carry out important projects that proactively improve forest health and remove roadblocks to completing important forest management projects.

“In our increasingly fast-paced, tech-driven, and divisive world, choosing to steward our natural resources well should be an issue that brings us together.  Public lands were set aside for public use, and we can ensure that these lands are protected without suffocating the rights of Idaho landowners and the freedom of the public to enjoy the lands that belong to them.  When we strike this balance, not only do we benefit from our public lands, but we also give an important gift to future Idahoans.  We give them the opportunity to explore where they came from and see the world as it has been, and to decide for themselves how it should be in the future.”