Policy Update – March 2022

In this month’s policy update, we share news on Idaho Panhandle National Forest winter travel planning and what we see in the President’s FY23 Budget.

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From Hilary Eisen, WWA Policy Director (3/30/2022)

I feel like I just wrote my February policy update a few days ago, so it seems that March flew by! This has been a fairly quiet month. These policy updates are always a good opportunity for me to reflect back on the month. I hope they provide a helpful digest for you of what WWA has been working on, too. Let’s dig in!

Idaho-Panhandle National Forest Winter Travel Planning

Earlier this winter, the Idaho-Panhandle National Forest initiated a collaborative process tasked with developing a recommendation to inform development of a proposed action for the Idaho-Panhandle’s Kaniksu OSV plan – the North Idaho Working Group. This group is facilitated by the National Forest Foundation and meets monthly. Winter Wildlands Alliance and the Idaho Trails Association represent non-motorized winter recreation interests on the Working Group. Although the Panhandle is pretty far away from Sierra, what WWA has learned through winter travel planning in California is relevant and will be important in this planning process too. The Working Group has until June to develop a recommendation, as the Forest Service hopes to start the NEPA process for this travel plan this summer.

Bridger-Teton Forest Planning

Winter Wildlands Alliance is slowly easing back into our pre-Covid travel routines and I spent a few days earlier this month in Jackson, WY meeting with partners and discussing Bridger-Teton forest planning. The Bridger-Teton is next in line for forest plan revision in the Forest Service’s Intermountain Region (Region 4). While we’re not sure when exactly forest plan revision will start on the Bridger-Teton we’re starting to think about what our priorities and goals will be for the revised forest plan and the best way to do that is to talk with people!

By the way, a perk of working for WWA is that I always have ski partners no matter where I go. I was happy to ski a couple of laps on Teton Pass with friends from Teton Backcountry Alliance and Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance while I was in town!

The President’s Budget and Congressional Appropriations

Finally, the President’s FY23 Budget was published this week. This traditionally kicks off the start of the Congressional Appropriations process.

I say “traditionally” because the process has not worked the way it’s supposed to for a long time – instead of coming up with an annual budget in a timely manner each year, Congress wavers on the edge of shutdown, passes continuing resolutions continuing the previous years’ budget, and maybe eventually gets around to passing a new budget halfway through the fiscal year.

The President Biden’s budget requests $110 million for the Forest Service Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness program, a $74 million increase above 2022 funding levels. This is good news! Between 2002 and 2020 the Forest Service’s Recreation, Wilderness and Heritage program saw a 48% decrease in staffing and a 27% decrease in appropriations adjusted for inflation.

Congress needs to dramatically increase Forest Service funding to make up for these declines and give the Agency the resources it needs to meet modern challenges and expectations. While the President’s Budget is more of a political statement than anything, it will hopefully get Congress moving in the right direction.

Here’s to spring corn!