BOISE — The United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service has 22 projects in Idaho it is hoping the recently passed Great American Outdoor Act will pay for in Fiscal Year 2021.
Those projects, spread across Idaho's seven national forests, will be on hold until Congress passes a FY2021 budget, and goes through the appropriations process, which is how Congress determines how much money each government department gets.
Until Congress passes an appropriation bill, that money can't flow into the projects it was earmarked for, said Dan Hottle, a public relations official for the Forest Service's Region 1, which covers northern Idaho.
"The biggest issue we are facing is we don't have a budget," Hottle said. "The Great American Outdoor Act money is appropriated by Congress, and you have to have a full year appropriation before you can receive that money. We're not holding our breath that the money is going to be available and that we will be able to work on projects right away."
Adding to the uncertainty are the recent devastating wildfires across the West, whose damage could raise costs and rearrange projects.
The Great American Outdoor Act doubled current funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to roughly $900 million a year, and put another $1.9 billion per year toward improvements at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and rangelands, the Associated Press reported. The bill authorizes $9.5 billion for maintenance over five years.
The money being redirected to the LWCF will come from offshore oil and gas lease profits. To be “fully funded,” the LWCF has to hit a $900 million mark annually, which the Great American Outdoors Act would allow. Since 2001, the fund has hit that mark once. Recently, its annual funding has hovered around the $500 million mark.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, co-sponsored the act in the House of Representatives. President Donald Trump signed it into law on Aug. 4.
Of the 22 projects, three are in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, four are in the Sawtooth, two in the Payette, one in the Caribou-Targhee, one in the Boise, five in the Idaho Panhandle and six in the Nez Perce - Clearwater National Forest. A major project is the Salmon River Road in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, which is estimated to cost $5.5 million.
Other projects include:
- replacing the Redfish Lake Creek bridge
- reconstruction of the Redfish Lake Road
- building a permanent bridge at Warm Springs in the Sawtooth National Forest
- putting in a new parking lot, generator, toilets and visitors' staging area at the Minnetonka Cave in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest
- several road and deferred maintenance projects in Idaho's forests
The Forest Service has $5.24 billion in deferred maintenance in national forests across the United States. Idaho ranks third in the nation in Forest Service deferred maintenance project cost with $524 million, with the Idaho Panhandle and Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests having $143 million and $140 million, respectively, in deferred maintenance costs.
Brad Brooks, the acting senior director for agency policy and planning at the conservation nonprofit The Wilderness Society, said the maintenance projects are all important for keeping Idaho's national forests accessible.
“Bridges, campgrounds, boat launches and trails all cost money to build and maintain. Fortunately, the Great American Outdoors Act provides funding to make sure we are stewarding our public lands, and making them open and accessible for all to enjoy into the future," Brooks said in an email.