A guest opinion from Craig Gehrke of The Wilderness Society, in Boise.
Upon its return from the Easter recess Congress has only until April 28 to finally pass a federal budget bill for the remainder of this fiscal year – 5 months - and avoid another government shutdown.
One of the surest ways to pass a budget bill is to keep it “clean,” i.e. no unrelated policy “riders” that have nothing to do with the budget but are generally too unpopular to pass on their own. Too often Congress loads up “must pass” legislation like budget bills to get their own controversial proposals enacted.
Yet again, extremists are trying to tear down the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the president to designate national monuments. This law has enjoyed bipartisan support and a century-long record of success. A rider (Sec. 453) would make it harder for communities to collaborate and ask the president to protect places they care about.
One rider (Sec. 122) would force the construction of an unnecessary road through designated wilderness in Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, damaging the heart of globally significant wildlife habitat and undermining the Wilderness Act. This project has been rejected by Congress and the courts multiple times, and would set a dangerous precedent.
Riders are inappropriate on spending legislation and have no place in a must pass funding bill to keep our government running. Republicans control Congress and the White House - they could move these policies through regular order if they wanted to. Allowing for public debate on these policies is the responsible thing to do. The fact that they are trying to sneak these damaging policies through as riders on must pass appropriations legislation shows how unpopular they are on both sides of the aisle.
Idaho cannot endure another government shutdown this spring, which would idle employees of the U.S. Forest Service. There are already scores of landslides and road failures across Idaho’s national forests, bleeding mud into Idaho’s rivers and blocking recreationists. And its only April. Across much of Idaho, record-setting snowpack will be melting over the coming weeks, compounding the problems with road failures. We need the Forest Service on the job to jump on these landslides to clear them, protect fish habitat and restore recreational access to the national forests. Without the Forest Service on the job to deal with landslides as they happen, there’s a good chance the sheer number will prove overpowering and popular backcountry roads will be closed for the upcoming recreational season.
Case in point: the Forest Service has counted over 60 snow slides along the Selway Road (#6223), the sole access for recreationists floating the renowned Selway River. While the agency won’t know the extent of road damage caused by the avalanches until they melt, you can bet debris removal will be a major undertaking. The Forest Service shouldn’t be kept off the job, victims of petty political maneuvering in Washington D.C.
We hope that Congressman Simpson and Senators Crapo and Risch will advocate for passing a clean budget bill. And we hope they oppose including damaging anti-conservation riders, which have no place in must-pass spending legislation and undermine the budget-setting process.