As the Senate prepares to vote on a budget compromise, they will be voting on a bill that will keep the federal government from designating any more land as “wild.”
According to several reports, Republican lawmakers added a provision to the budget bill that would prohibit funds from being spent to implement, administer or enforce Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's December order to designate new federal areas as wild lands. This prohibition would last at least for the next six months because that is how long the budget compromise will fund the government. The compromise was reached last week during the final hours before a deadline that would have shut down the government.
In December, Salazar announced a plan to make tens of millions of acres across the West eligible for wilderness protections. Now that plan has lost its funding and is essentially on ice until further notice. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) favored the plan, telling the media, "Congress has sole authority to create new wilderness areas. Any attempt to try to run around Congress will get a predictable response." The Alaskan added, "Moving forward, I would encourage the Interior Department to work not around, but with Congress." When news of the Bureau of Land Management block hit Senate offices on the other side of the aisle, it got a different response. The Denver Post quoted Tara Trujillo, a spokeswoman for Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), said her boss "Is very disappointed that a vote to help keep our economy afloat comes at the cost of our nation's ability to protect our cherished lands."
While the wild lands provision flew mostly under the radar after the budget deal was struck, it is just one of many surprises that are now making news. Beyond the wild lands blockade, the budget deal includes a provision that would remove wolves in Montana and Idaho from the federal endangered species list, a first for Congress. The deal also calls for $797 million in cuts to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.