This month, Congress is considering numerous pieces of major legislation that impact Audubon priorities, from the funding of conservation programs in appropriations bills, to private lands conservation in the Farm Bill, to large-scale ecosystem restoration in a water resources bill, and more. The bills provide the funds and authorizations that advance bird conservation nationwide, but can also be a vehicle for harmful amendments.
The appropriations bills provide the annual funding for federal agencies and programs that support bird conservation. Many of these bills have now moved to advanced stages in the process. The Energy and Water appropriations bill, which funds water conservation, clean energy, and ecosystem restoration, has now passed in both the House and Senate . The Interior-EPA bill, which funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, ecosystem restoration by the EPA, wetlands protection, and more, is expected to be up for a vote in the House next week. It’s critical these bills remain free of harmful environmental riders and maintain strong funding levels for conservation programs.
The Farm Bill is the largest source of conservation funding for private lands, which cover two-thirds of U.S. land. The bill is renewed about every five years. It provides important tools for collaborating with producers on working lands, and supports programs that are vital for grassland and wetland conservation for birds, western water conservation, and more. The House and the Senate have now passed versions of the bill, which include some important wins for birds, and will now move to a conference committee to work out differences in the two versions. We urge Congress to reject riders from the House bill impacting endangered species and forests.
Water Resources Development Act
The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorizes federal water projects, including vital ecosystem restoration projects in the Everglades, Great Lakes, and more. This legislation is scheduled to pass every two years in Congress. The House passed a bill last month by an overwhelming bipartisan margin, and the Senate is expected to vote on its bill later this month. Provisions supporting natural infrastructure, funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, addressing drought in the West, and authorizing a new critical project to assist Everglades restoration could be advanced in this bill. Audubon is urging that the highly controversial Pearl River Basin Demonstration Project be removed from the bill. The project would dam a portion of the ecologically rich Pearl River near Jackson, Mississippi, destroying vital bottomland hardwood wetlands and floodplain habitat, and increasing flood risks for downstream communities.
National Defense Authorization Act
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provides the authorization for Department of the Defense programs. This major legislation must pass each year. It has also been a magnet for policy riders, notably for attempts to reduce conservation protections for Greater Sage-Grouse and other species. The House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill, and it now moves to a conference stage. The House bill includes a 10-year ban on listing the sage-grouse and the Lesser Prairie-Chicken under the Endangered Species Act, so it’s vital that the conference committee reject this provision in the final bill.