Environmental groups breathed a slight sigh of relief Thursday.
“It could have been a lot worse, and we were expecting a lot worse,” Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, told ABC News in a phone interview.
For example, the president’s budget proposed cutting the Land and Water Conservation Fund by almost 80 percent but members of Congress rejected that entirely and the final bill instead slightly increased money for the fund.
“Together, we rejected the Trump administration’s proposal to make massive and dangerous budget cuts,” Udall wrote in a statement. “My colleagues and I worked hard to block a long list of anti-environment provisions that have no place in an appropriations bill.”
In addition to possible funding cuts, conservation groups feared Republicans might try to include policy changes that could impact conservation work inside the massive, 2,000-page plus spending bill. There had been talk of possible changes to rules safeguarding the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and provisions dealing endangered species, for example, but most of the changes did not make it into the final text.
The spending bill in fact preserved money for endangered species programs, which administration budget proposals had zeroed out or cut significantly.
Environmental activists and especially lawmakers from the western part of the country celebrated one policy change in the bill that will give the Forest Service more flexibility to plan for and pay to fight wildfires.
“It allows the Forest Service to use more of its funds on timber management, forest management, and recreation programs, rather than fire suppression," Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican said.
Still, many said the bill is far from a wish-list for scientists and environmentalists. “This bill only looks good when you compare it to something as bad as what President Trump put on the table,” Manuel told ABC News. He argued that several federal conservation programs and agencies are already strapped for cash and this bill simply did not slash funding further.
“EPA is probably where there has been the most hits and biggest cuts,” he said. He listed other programs struggling to work within their designated budgets too.
“The Park Service has a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog. The Fish and Wildlife Service will tell you they are down 10,000 staff," he continued. "They are 10,000 people below where they should be in order to adequately monitor wildlife refuges and maintain habitat for endangered species.”
The Sierra Club also pointed to part of the bill released Thursday that would allow for some increased barriers along the Texas-Mexico border, which, they say, could impact animal migration and the National Butterfly Center.
Though Congress ignored many of the president's requests and did not reduce federal spending as much as he would have preferred, the White House said Thursday he will sign the spending bill.