Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson examined the President's budget proposal for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) during an appropriations subcommittee hearing yesterday. Simpson chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the budget for the BLM and other land management agencies. During the hearing, Simpson questioned BLM Principle Deputy Director Neil Kornze on grazing, sage-grouse, and the impact of frivolous litigation on the agency.
In his opening statement, Simpson commended BLM, which is working to meet a court-imposed listing deadline, for its efforts on sage-grouse conservation. "That being said," he continued, "I want to make sure this investment will actually improve sage-grouse habitat and prevent the species from being listed in 2015, which would be devastating across the west. Now more than ever we need to see a return on this investment, not just wasting this funding on planning exercises that don't help us reach our goal."
As Simpson continued, he criticized BLM's focus on limiting existing uses of BLM land, like grazing and recreation, in order to protect sage-grouse, rather than focusing on the primary threats to the species. "As we all know after the last fire season, the greatest threat to sage grouse is wildfire," Simpson continued. "Two million acres of priority sage grouse habitat burned in wildfires. But as BLM focuses on sage grouse, it seems that the agency is looking mostly at limiting existing uses rather than controlling invasives like cheat grass and preventing wildfires. In fact, your budget decreases funding for hazardous fuels removal. Last year's fire season shows us that no matter how much we limit existing uses of public lands, wildfires could easily be the nail in the coffin for sage grouse listing. This is a top priority for me--and we need to work together on a real solution. "
Simpson also raised his concerns about the cost of frivolous litigation to the taxpayer and the impact it has on the ability of the BLM to carry out its mission. "When I raised this issue with outgoing Interior Secretary Salazar a couple of months ago," he said, "he responded that he was, at the time, the defendant in 3,000 lawsuits. Three thousand! That number alone tells you that we have a problem with frivolous lawsuits."
The hearing also covered issues including renewable energy production on public lands, proposals to increase grazing fees, and invasive species.