Conservation Programs at a Crossroads

  • Posted by Dawn Merritt

    The release of a new federal report and a House-passed budget bill present stark choices.

    By David Hoskins, IWLA Executive Director

    On February 19th, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut tens of billions from the federal budget this fiscal year. Although many of us might agree that significant reductions in the United States budget are necessary to begin to come to terms with a ballooning federal deficit, the Continuing Resolution would sharply reduce or even zero out funding for key environmental programs. It would also prevent the Obama administration from taking actions to implement and enforce some of our most important environmental laws.

    These federal laws and programs play a vital role in the conservation of our nation’s natural resources – including fish and wildlife – and in protecting the water we drink and the air we breathe. In addition, many of these initiatives were enacted and sustained thanks, in part, to the hard work and support of generations of Izaak Walton League members.

    For example, the League has worked for more than 40 years to monitor and improve water quality through our iconic Save Our Streams program. We have also sought to protect and conserve our nation’s remaining wetlands – areas that provide essential habitat for our nation’s migratory waterfowl and countless other wetland-dependent fish and wildlife species, help purify our water, and provide critical protection against potentially devastating floods.

    The House-passed Continuing Resolution, however, would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from moving forward with regulations to help clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Two Supreme Court decisions jeopardize such protection for critical water resources: Intermittent and ephemeral streams – which contribute to drinking water supplies for an estimated 117 million Americans – and tens of millions of acresof wetlands.

    Unfortunately, the debate over the future course of our fiscal and environmental health overshadowed another important event last week: The release of a report on the America’s Great Outdoor (AGO) Initiative. Launched by President Obama last April, this initiative is intended to set a new path forward for conservation and outdoor recreation in the 21st century. One which recognizes and responds to the needs of a growing and changing population and an increasingly fragmented natural environment threatened by development.

    Drawing on input from more than 50 listening sessions held across the entire county, the report by the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, the Administrator of EPA, and the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, seeks to better engage Americans (particularly youth) in conservation and outdoor recreation activities; work collaboratively with private landowners to conserve working landscapes; provide full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; and place a renewed emphasis on the establishment and management of local urban parks, green spaces, and waterways.

    Although the AGO report strikes me as a good first step in the right direction, its future and the future of existing federal programs and initiatives placed at risk by the current fiscal climate will depend on ongoing support from organizations like ours. In the coming weeks and months, as the broader debate over the budget unfolds and the Obama administration grapples with how best to implement its AGO recommendations, we will be reaching out to you with specific suggestions as to how you can help. Working together, we can defend outdoor America for future generations.

    – David Hoskins, IWLA Executive Director

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