Murkowski’s Work Protects People and Lands

Interior Appropriations Bill Supports Wildfire Prevention, Safety Initiatives, and Land Cleanup

Through her Chairmanship of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) worked to fund initiatives for Alaska through the Fiscal Year 2019 Interior Appropriations bill. Murkowski’s bill provides the resources necessary to combat wildfires and prioritizes responsible management of Alaska’s lands. The bill also includes support for the ailing timber industry in Southeast Alaska, directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to clean up abandoned legacy wells drilled in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), and provides funding to improve mapping in Alaska. The full Appropriations Committee approved the bill Thursday through a historic, unanimous vote. It will now head to the Senate floor for final consideration. 

“Wildfires and natural disasters continue to be a growing crisis and pose a significant threat to life, property, and ecosystems throughout Alaska and across the nation. We must ensure that we are directing federal resources where they are most useful, to ensure effective tools are in place to pre-emptively address and quickly respond to these disasters—for the sake of Alaskans and our lands. But we know that it isn’t just natural disasters that are affecting our communities. From legacy well clean-ups and 3-D mapping, to funding for National Park Service construction and maintenance, the impacts of this bill for Alaska are far-reaching,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done to create a bipartisan bill, to benefit Alaskans, our lands, and our country.”

Preventing and Suppressing Natural Disasters

The bill fully funds the 10-year average cost of our nation’s wildfire suppression needs, and provides additional resources to the Forest Service and Department of the Interior in the event of a catastrophic wildfire season. Murkowski also increased investments in the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service for preventative measures that can be made in advance of wildfire season, such as hazardous fuels reduction and fuel breaks.

The bill provides full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which helps local governments provide vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, search-and-rescue operations, and the construction of public schools and roads.

The bill provides funding for important programs that help emergency responders respond to, and inform the public of, natural hazards and disasters, including $3 million specifically for the USGS earthquakes hazard program which will allow Alaska to develop and enhance earthquake monitoring capabilities. The bill also includes $31 million for the USGS volcano hazards program.

Mapping Terrain

Funding is included for energy and minerals programs that will help USGS conduct assessments in the NPR-A and also invests $7 million in a new critical minerals initiative that will improve topographic, geological, and geophysical mapping. The bill maintains funding at $7.7 million for Alaska mapping initiatives that will help gather data to improve maps, thereby enhancing the safety of activities such as aviation.

Prioritizing Lands

The bill prioritizes infrastructure improvements on our nation’s public lands. Both the construction and deferred maintenance budgets continued to receive increases, building upon their historic increases from the year prior. These are priorities for National Parks in Alaska, as maintaining park infrastructure is key to both local visitors and the tourism sector. It also increases funding for Forest Service recreation activities, including cabins, trails, and recreation; and provides more resources for special use permitting programs that allow certain businesses to operate in Alaska’s national forests.

Dozens of exploration wells and core tests that were drilled decades ago remain abandoned in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. This bill provides $9.5 million for legacy well cleanup, and further directs the Bureau of Land Management to craft a long-term funding plan to complete the clean-up of the wells within ten years.

The bill also includes funds to fulfill requirements to transfer lands to the State and Native Alaskans under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), by providing $22 million for Alaska Land Conveyance, and directs the Bureau of Land Management to work collaboratively with other federal agencies to clean up contaminated Native lands. 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) receives $425 million, including $124 million for the National Park Service stateside program, which helps state and local governments to improve public outdoor recreation opportunities. The bill includes $43 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), an increase of $3 million, to help increase bird populations and wetlands habitat.  NAWCA is a popular program among sportsmen and bird watchers.

Forest Management

The bill calls on the Forest Service to complete the stand-level inventory currently underway in the Tongass National Forest and directs the Agency to refrain from implementing a final transition away from its Tongass old growth timber program to a program based primarily on young growth, until sufficient information is obtained to demonstrate that it will result in a successful timber management program to preserve a viable timber industry in the region. The Forest Inventory and Analysis program receives funding and provides the State with important information about the condition of Alaska’s forested lands, and dovetails into funding made available for education and management of Spruce bark beetle infestations that threaten Alaska communities with greater risk of devastating wildfires. 

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee controls funding levels for federal agencies and departments such as the Department of the Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Forest Service (FS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Indian Health Service (IHS). Murkowski, as Chairman, is able to write the Senate’s annual appropriations bill for the Subcommittee.