Conservation Funding Cuts

Conservation Funding Cuts

Conservation Funding Takes Significant Hit in House – There is widespread agreement within the hunting and angling community that conservation funding and programs will be trimmed to contribute to a comprehensive effort to cut federal spending and reduce the deficit.  There is equally strong agreement that this funding and core programs should not bear a disproportionate share of the burden.  Dramatic cuts in conservation will not solve the budget problem, but will undermine effective initiatives that directly benefit hunters and anglers, state fish and wildlife agencies, the American people, and our natural resources.

Deep Cuts Threaten Conservation, Outdoor Recreation, and Environmental Protection

As the U.S. House develops and passes annual appropriations bills funding public land management agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and environmental protection, there is cause for serious concern.  In June, the House approved the Agriculture Appropriations bill, which includes damaging cuts to core conservation programs, including the Wetlands and Grassland Reserve Programs, and eliminates all funding for Open Fields, which supports state efforts to expand access to private land for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. 

In July, the House Appropriations Committee made additional cuts in the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.  This legislation, which funds the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, other land management agencies, and EPA, cuts annual discretionary spending by more than $2 billion compared to funding provided for the current fiscal year.  The full House began voting on this bill on July 25. 

Some of the reductions are dramatic. For example, the bill cuts funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which supports land acquisition, habitat protection, and outdoor recreation, by 80% compared to the current year.  This cut bars agencies from acquiring any land, including in-holdings within the boundaries of existing national parks or wildlife refuges.  This dramatic reduction stands in stake contrast to League policy that supports fully funding the LWCF at $900 million annually.

The bill makes other cuts that will only exacerbate existing problems.  For example, it reduces funding to operate and maintain national wildlife refuges to $455 million, which is nearly $38 million less than this year and $47 million less than the Fish and Wildlife Service requested.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Service would be forced to close as many as 140 wildlife refuges nationwide if the final refuge budget is cut by this deeply.  This reduction will make it more challenging for refuges to manage and improve habitat, combat invasive plants and animals, and provide visitor services and law enforcement.  These cuts are even more counterproductive when one considers that the refuge system currently has a $3.5 billion backlog of operations and maintenance projects.  The system has already deferred essential maintenance and habitat restoration projects, and additional funding cuts will only add to this problem and make it more expensive to address in the future.

Some of the other reductions are far from ideal, but frankly, could have been worse.  For example, the legislation provides $250 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  Although this is $100 million less than the administration requested, it represents an on-going commitment to the Great Lakes and builds on about $300 million provided for the current fiscal year, as well as approximately $700 million in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.  In the current budget climate, the continued investment of significant resources in this area is better than the alternative.

Policy Provisions Block Action on Pressing Problems, Undermine Key Laws

In addition to significant funding cuts, the legislation contains more than 35 policy provisions, or “riders,” that have nothing to do with dollars and cents and, taken together, would negatively impact broad array of public land, conservation, and environmental laws and policies. The following are only a few examples:

  • The Fish and Wildlife Service is barred from listing any new plant or animal as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act or from designating habitat that is essential for the recovery of species that are already listed.  This substitutes politics for science. Moreover, it could undermine efforts to recover and, ultimately delist, species if habitat critical to their survival can not be protected.
  • EPA is blocked from issuing, revising, or implementing any guidance or regulation to restore Clean Water Act protections for streams, wetlands, and other waters.  One of the League’s top priorities is restoring these protections, including by supporting EPA and Army Corps guidance and rulemaking.
  • EPA can not develop rules to improve the storage and disposal of hundreds of millions of tons of toxic ash that is stored on-site at coal power plants nationwide. The League has been working for decades to reduce air and other pollution from these plants, and supports the more protective coal ash standards that the bill would block.
  • EPA is also barred from issuing new rules that could dramatically reduce the number of fish and other aquatic life that are killed annually by antiquated power plant cooling systems.  The League and other angling groups support addressing this problem by transitioning plants to cooling systems that draw significantly less fresh water from rivers, the Great Lakes, and other sources.  In fact, the League and others are encouraging EPA to take even stronger steps than it has proposed to date.
  • The Secretary of the Interior would be prohibited from withdrawing public land near Grand Canyon National Park from mineral leasing.  Several companies have proposed large new uranium mines on public lands in this area.  In late June, the Secretary used existing statutory authority to temporarily withdraw some of those lands from mineral leasing while the Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over most of the land at issue, conducts an environmental impact study to evaluate the benefits of withdrawing these lands from leasing for at least 20 years.
  • Great Lakes states would be barred from receiving any EPA funding if they adopt ballast water standards stronger than current U.S. Coast Guard rules require. In spite of the devastating impacts caused by aquatic invasive species introduced into the U.S. through ballast water discharges, federal efforts to develop comprehensive and protective standards have lagged.  States, especially across the Great Lakes region, have stepped forward to develop their own standards to safeguard state and regional waters.  This amendment would punish these states by withholding ANY funds from EPA, including for Great Lakes restoration, sewage and drinking water treatment plant upgrades, or brownfields remediation.   

These are only a few examples of nearly 40 damaging provisions.  Based on these provisions and deep funding cuts, this legislation should be rejected by the House of Representatives.  The Obama administration has sent a strong veto message to the House citing funding cuts and the policy provisions as grounds for opposing the measure.

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