2013 Administrative funding priorities

Upper Desolation Canyon, Utah
Ray Bloxham, SUWA
In a tough budget climate, like the one that we are currently in, finding bright spots in the federal budget can be difficult.

Yet, the president’s 2013 budget, released to Congress in February, shows a strong commitment to conservation and renewable energy. This is good because conservation offers strong benefits to the American economy.

Millions of people depend on healthy wild places for their jobs and livelihoods, and outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking and camping adds $730 billion to the U.S. economy every year. The president’s budget proposal is now in front of Congress. The Wilderness Society will work with the House and Senate to continue to show their support for clean energy and wild places that all Americans want and need.

The president’s 2013 budget shows that the Obama administration realizes the strong benefits of conservation and clean energy to the American economy.

Highlights of the president’s 2013 budget proposals of great importance to the work of The Wilderness Society includes the following:

Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was allocated $450 million – a $130 million increase over the final enacted 2012 budget. This popular program conserves and preserves wild lands across America, and this year’s funding would go towards projects like the Snake River in Idaho and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon.

This is a very strong commitment to the Land and Water Conservation Fund – it is significantly more than the program received in 2012, so it is clear that the administration recognizes the value that lands protected with these funds have.  Other areas, like the National Wildlife Refuge System also fared pretty well – with $495 million for maintenance and upkeep throughout the system, which is vital for migrating birds and hundreds of species of wildlife that call refuges home.

The National Landscape Conservation System

It was a good year for the National Landscape Conservation System, part of the Bureau of Land Management. Many of the programs that fall under the Conservation System are at their near-highest or highest levels of funding. National monuments and national conservation areas saw a $3.3 million increase to $35.1 million. Wilderness management, wild and scenic rivers, and national and historic trails all saw increases as well.

Conservation efforts to protect habitat for the sage grouse, a species facing increasingly fragmented and dwindling habitat, also received a $15 million boost over 2012 levels.

National Forests

There are mixed reports on national forest funding. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program remains fully funded at $40 million, which is great news for forest restoration partners across the country. This investment will continue to support twenty collaborative forest restoration projects that are currently under way.

On the other hand, the president’s budget specifies a 5% cut to the Recreation Heritage & Wilderness program, which is responsible for providing recreational opportunities, volunteer coordination and wilderness management. This is especially unfortunate because the forest service’s capacity to provide for recreation and to help get volunteers out repairing our trails is already stretched to the breaking point, leading to a trails maintenance backlog of nearly $300 million.

The Legacy Roads and Trails program, which protects drinking water and fisheries by repairing important forest service roads and removing others that are past their prime was folded into a separate program called the Integrated Resources Restoration (IRR), which is currently being piloted in three western regions. Although The Wilderness Scoeity supports the pilot, we do not recommend rolling the $45 million Legacy Roads & Trails program into a nationwide IRR until we have enough time for the pilots to show us what works.

Energy

The President’s budget redoubled a commitment to “Smart from the Start” renewable energy development – the kind that puts high quality wind and solar projects in the right places, avoiding unacceptable impacts to sensitive birds, fish and wildlife. 

Interior Department agencies play a critical role in siting and reviewing projects. The 21% increase in funding for permitting and planning at the department boosts the renewables program to $86 million. Consistent funding for these critical programs even in these lean budget times is needed to build smart today and to compete in the global market of tomorrow.

However, the smartest energy is the kind you do not need, and here the budget shines with an 80% increase in Department of Energy programs that focus on energy efficiency. These programs help businesses stay more competitive and spend less on energy while helping families lower their energy bills and keep more money in their pockets.

Recreation

Overall funding for the National Park Service would be essentially flat under the president's budget when compared to 2012. However, within the budget there are noteworthy reductions to funding for operations, which supports recreation and visitor services within the parks.

On the plus side, there is a slight increase in funding for the Challenge Cost Share program, which provides matching funds to qualified partners for projects that preserve and improve the National Park Service's natural, cultural and recreational resources.

The president's budget also includes flat funding of $10 million for the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA), which provides technical support to states, local communities and non-governmental organizations in developing recreational opportunities outside park boundaries. This seen as an important program for implementation of the America's Great Outdoors initiative.

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