Who knew? On May 19 those wild eyed environmentalists on the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously (no misprint) passed a FY 2017 agriculture and rural development bill that includes significant funding for conservation work. The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote, and if it passes, back to the House for reconciliation.

Of particular interest, the bill breathes new life into the moribund Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program. This little known program is supposed to fund land and water conservation efforts at the watershed level, but has long gone unfunded and unloved. The new bill would appropriate $150 million, which would be the first appropriation since 2010. Less than the Administration proposed—not nearly adequate of course—but nevertheless, new money that could serve important purposes.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a member of the Appropriations Committee, sees an opportunity for addressing habitat needs for fish and wildlife, particularly the spotted frog, as well as aiding rural communities. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the spotted frog and designated critical habitat in Central Oregon. Indeed, irrigation districts in the area are making plans to compete for the funding to help with irrigation equipment upgrades and replacement of open canals with pipes. Such efficiency and conservation efforts reduce pressure on habitat for the spotted frog and other species.

It will be interesting to see if a sister program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, established by Congress in 1965, can find a receptive ear as well. As described by the LWCF Coalition:

It was a simple idea: use revenues from the depletion of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – to support the conservation of another precious resource – our land and water. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are put into this fund. The money is intended to create and protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects.

Unfortunately, for many years Congress has diverted the funds for other purposes, leaving a multi-billion dollar backlog in maintenance and enhancement projects. There’s no direct connection between the LWCF and the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program, and no particular reason why funding of one would lead to funding the other. Still, it’s an encouraging sign for those who enjoy the many benefits of the LWCF.