Eye On Washington: Looking Back at 2021 with Hope

By many, if not most, measures of conservation progress, 2021 was a welcome change. After the last few years of an administration that took the nation on a reverse conservation course, it was inspiring to see within one year a new administration return the nation to the path of promise. Although conservationists had hoped for a more robust slate of accomplishments in 2021, some of the actual successes that provided hope include: recovery of thousands of acres of national monuments, such as Bears Ears National Monument, from energy and mineral extraction and exploitation; and the reestablishment of regulations and policies to protect endangered species, clean water and a pathway to reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Conservationists took pride in the few, but important, pieces of legislation that passed, like the infrastructure bill and improved budgets for managing and enforcing environmental regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act. These accomplishments gave some people hope that this might allow for a much-needed deep breath and momentary break. That notion was quickly quashed as a narrowly but deeply divided Congress required constant reminders from conservation organizations that giant strides are needed.
As the country celebrates the entry of 2022, there is hope for an inspiring Build Back Better legislation (the Reconciliation bill) that could add trillions more to re-educate the workforce and re-engineer a more sustainable industry economy to address the Climate Crisis. The work continues. Here are a few details about the successes of 2021.

Successes of 2021

The Infrastructure Bill (signed into law by President Biden)
The “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” that President Biden signed into law provides capital over the next five years for the National Park Service (NPS), including Redwood National and State Parks, to implement thousands of projects that have required repairs to address environmental and historic preservation as well as public safety. The NPS will use some of these funds to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, critically important in parks which are home to many important migratory populations. Funds will be distributed through two federal programs: the Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP) and the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) Program. More details can be found here: https://bit.ly/3F5CdpY

Lessons Learned
Remember when the last administration, for purely political purposes, moved the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C., where all other agency headquarters are located, to Grand Junction, Colorado? Now we find that a General Accounting Office report describes the failure of that move. The move had the effect of increasing vacancies by 169% and creating significant delays to decision-making throughout the agency. In particular, staff who identify as Black or Asian were disproportionately affected in the move. The full report can be found at gao.gov/products/gao-22-104247

Sacred Sites and Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced a new interagency Memorandum of Understanding to increase collaboration with Tribes to ensure stewardship and access to sacred sites on federal lands and increase the use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in management. The signatory agencies were the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Learn more at doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-haaland-announces-interagency-effort-protect-and-increase-access-indigenous

Coming Up in Congress

The Committee on Natural Resources: Full Committee held a markup meeting on several bills, including H.R. 404 Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act of 2021. The purpose of H.R. 404 is to improve the management of driftnet fishing. Introduced by Rep. Leu (D-CA), the bill was influenced by meetings Congressman Huffman held in communities across the nation in order to gather input on what improvements were needed for the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to phase out unsustainable commercial fishing gear in federal waters within five years for the purpose of protecting marine life. It was approved in a voice vote in the House Natural Resources Committee following recent Senate passage of S. 273, introduced by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA). Details of that legislation as analyzed by Congressman Huffman can be found here: https://bit.ly/34lF69k

Very Sad News

Fire and Giant Sequoia
Managers of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced that as many as 3,600 giant sequoias in 27 groves perished in wildfires this summer. “This represents 3-5% of the world’s giant sequoia population and comes on the heels of the 2019 Castle Fire that killed up to 14% of the world’s sequoias.“ Source: Los Angeles Times