Merkley, Wyden Announce Critical Funding for Agriculture, Environment Passes Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced major investments that will help Oregon’s rural communities are included in the 2019 package of spending bills, which have been passed by Congress and sent to the White House for a signature. Key funding for Oregon includes support for the Klamath Basin, salmon recovery, wildfire prevention, and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

“We have rescued the spending bills that Trump took hostage in his 35-day shutdown,” Merkley said. “These bipartisan spending bills fund important programs for rural communities across Oregon, and should have been passed months ago. The critical investments made by the bills passed today will help with water resource issues in Central and Southern Oregon; with wildfire preparedness throughout our state; with salmon management and recovery efforts; and more.”

“Rural Oregonians regularly tell me in town halls and grocery store checkout lines they’re concerned how recent uncertainty over government funding threatens important support for a quality way of life in their communities,” Wyden said. “I am pleased Congress at last has passed a bipartisan spending package that addresses those concerns with essential resources for wildfire prevention, agriculture research, water conservation, habitat restoration and more.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He helped write the Agriculture and Rural Development bill as the top Democrat on the subcommittee. 

Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of over $300 million in funding to for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of our nation’s agricultural systems. The senators also secured funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs on Sudden Oak Death, alfalfa, pear, wheat, hops, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, and nurseries.

Wildfire Prevention: The bill includes funding increases for several programs to prevent wildfires, reduce hazardous fuels, and support important research activities. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management each received an additional $5 million for hazardous fuels reduction. The Joint Fire Science Program, which funds fire management research focused on applied research, received an additional $3 million. The senators also protected funding for vegetation and water management activities within national forests

Wildfire Management: In anticipation of the coming fire season, Merkley and Wyden secured $2.5 billion for fire suppression at the Forest Service and Department of the Interior, which is $100 million above the last fiscal year. In the omnibus, Congress enacted a provision to allow federal agencies to use disaster money to fund fire suppression efforts beyond a certain point. Unfortunately, the provision does not come into effect until Fiscal Year 2020. The additional $508 million included in the bill will help minimize the amount of money borrowed from fire prevention and other forest management programs to pay for wildfire fighting during this fire season.

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: For the third consecutive year, the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program received $150 million, including funding for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative process underway in the Deschutes Basin to conserve water and improve the habitat of the spotted frog, helping to keep Central Oregon family farms in business.

Collaborative Forest Management: The bill includes $40 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP), which was targeted for elimination in the President’s budget. Oregon has three active CFLR projects: Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, and Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project. In the 2018 Farm Bill, the senators won authorization to double the size of the program in future budgets.

Salmon Management: Programs to help manage salmon populations, which include the operations and maintenance of Mitchell Act hatcheries and the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, received $37 million, a $1.5 million increase.

Salmon Recovery: The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund received $65 million. President Trump proposed eliminating this competitive grant program, which is designed to address declining Pacific salmon and steelhead populations by supporting conservation efforts in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Since 2000, the program has funded $3 billion in projects—including $1.3 billion in awards and $1.7 billion in state and other matching funds—that have helped prevent the extinction of the 28 listed salmon and steelhead species on the West Coast.

Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: The senators continued efforts to support progress toward a long-term water resource solution in the Klamath Basin by securing $4 million for local efforts in the Klamath Basin, including $3.5 million to support strategies to restore fish habitat and scale up ongoing efforts to restore healthy populations of shortnose and Lost River sucker fish.

Tribal Programs: The Indian Health Service, which provides healthcare to thousands of Oregon Tribal members, received $4.1 billion, which is a $150 million increase. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education received an additional $17 million.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $500 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. This funding goes to Oregon counties that have large tracts of federal land, which doesn’t pay property taxes.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: The program maintained funding at $435 million. For over 50 years the LWCF has been the main source of funding for federal land and water acquisitions. Acquiring and protecting our public lands not only provides environmental and recreational benefits, but also creates jobs in the tourism, recreation, timber, fishing, and other natural resource sectors.

Clean Air and Water Funding: Merkley successfully led Senate Democrats in protecting funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The President’s Budget proposed cutting the agency responsible for reducing pollution and safeguarding public health by 23 percent. Merkley, Wyden and 36 of their colleagues urged opposition to those cuts, which were ultimately rejected by the Appropriations Committee. The proposed cut would have led to a 20 percent reduction in EPA federal employees, which includes nearly 1,200 veterans. The final bill increases funding for the agency to $8.85 billion

Columbia River Basin Restoration Program: The EPA received $1 million to begin the planning process to implement the Columbia River Basin Restoration Program. The program provides grants to business owners, farmers, ranchers, local governments, and others in the Columbia Basin to clean up and reduce toxics for a cleaner, healthier basin.