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As Cost Soars, Senate Passes Maintenance Funding on Public Lands

The Idaho Panhandle National Forest has a $141 million maintenance backlog. (Greg Tensmeyer/U.S. Forest Service)
The Idaho Panhandle National Forest has a $141 million maintenance backlog. (Greg Tensmeyer/U.S. Forest Service)
June 18, 2020

BOISE, Idaho -- The Senate has passed a bill to address the deep backlog of maintenance on the country's public lands.

Idaho has the third largest maintenance backlog on national forest lands, with more than $500 million in needs.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, external relations director for the Idaho Conservation League, says the Great American Outdoors Act will provide $9.5 billion to public lands of all types over the next five years.

"It's going to go directly to improve access and restore the roads, trails, bridges and infrastructure and other facilities that all Americans benefit from," he states.

Oppenheimer says the Nez Perce-Clearwater and Idaho Panhandle national forests have the greatest forest backlogs in the country, at $144 million and $141 million, respectively.

The bill passed the Senate 73 to 25 on Wednesday, but both senators from Idaho -- Republicans James Risch and Mike Crapo -- voted against it.

The bill includes full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well, which provides access to public lands.

Risch and Crapo expressed concern this program doesn't have enough oversight.

However, Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho is co-sponsoring the House version of the Great American Outdoors Act.

Oppenheimer says Simpson has been a stalwart champion of the fund.

"He's introduced bills in the past and this really carries on a trend and a commitment from Rep. Simpson to ensure that we are maintaining and keeping up our public lands," Oppenheimer states.

Oppenheimer adds that offshore oil and gas royalties are the source of funding for this bill.

"It's not going to add additional dollars to the deficit, not going to put us in the hole as a country, and instead is coming from a dedicated account which has the dollars available," he points out.

President Donald Trump has said he will sign this bill if Congress passes it.

Disclosure: Idaho Conservation League contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID