2013 Legislative funding priorities

Itasca State Park, Minnesota
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Congress plays an important role in deciding how much of our federal money goes to our national parks, refuges, forests and wilderness areas each year.

Federal money is important to the health of wildlands. When funded properly, federal conservation programs help support healthy ecosystems and ensure wildlands are accessible to the public. These programs also support scientific and educational opportunities. 

Federal spending on land, water, ocean and wildlife programs are just 1.26% of the federal budget. This proportion of the federal budget has actually declined over the last 30 years. Funding for conservation programs has grown only 2% in real dollars over this entire period while other federal expenditures have increased dramatically.

We will continue to urge bold, immediate action in support of conservation funding for Fiscal Year 2013.

The Wilderness Society and our conservation partners encourage members of Congress and our US Senators to adopt funding recommendations outlined in our Green Budget proposal

Until the 2012 election is behind us, political grandstanding is likely to get in the way of a solid bill that ensures adequate funding for our parks, refuges, forests, National Landscape Conservation System and other public lands. We will continue to urge bold, immediate action in support of conservation funding for Fiscal Year 2013. We specifically recommend the following:

Land and Water Conservation Fund

LWCF remains the premier federal program to conserve our nation’s land, water, historic, and recreation heritage. It is a critical tool to acquire inholdings, expand public lands and protect national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, wild and scenic river corridors, national scenic and historic trails, the Bureau of Land Management lands and other federal areas.

The Wilderness Society supports funding LWCF at the proposed $450 million, a level which will support the program in continuing to assist land management agencies manage the public lands more efficiently and cost-effectively.

BLM Onshore Oil and Gas Policy

The BLM is implementing important management reforms of its oil and gas program that should lead to a better balance between oil and gas development on public lands and the protection of the many natural resource values that were put at risk by previous policies. The Administration has proposed the following reforms of the BLM’s oil and gas program, which TWS supports:

  • A fee for onshore federal operators designed to bring in $10 million per year for the I & E program
  • Continuation of the $6,500 APD fee first approved by Congress for fiscal year 2010
  • A $4.00 per acre fee on non-producing onshore leases
  • Repeal of Sec. 365 of EPACT, which diverted lease rental revenues to fund the “Permit Streamlining Pilot Offices” and prohibited the BLM from charging APD fees (the latter was overridden by Congress in the fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill)
  • Initiation of a new rule to raise royalty rates for federal onshore oil and gas leases, with a goal of raising oil and gas revenues by $1 billion over ten years (royalty rates under consideration are not discussed in the budget proposal however)

BLM Rapid Ecological Assessments

The Wilderness Society supports completion of the BLM’s initiative to develop Rapid Ecological Assessments. Once completed, these assessments will be of vital importance in assuring the BLM makes appropriate management decisions in conformance with its multiple-use mandate.

BLM Wilderness

The budget proposal of $18.568 million for wilderness management in the BLM is a strong proposal, but it is still 6% lower than the fiscal year 2011 enacted level. That level is necessary to ensure resource and visitor safety in the 221 wilderness areas managed by the BLM. We urge Congress to support at least the $18.568 million in the fiscal year 2013 budget.

National Landscape Conservation System

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) National Landscape Conservation System (also known as Conservation Lands) comprises some 27 million acres of congressionally and presidentially designated lands and waters, including National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness, National Scenic and Historic Trails as well as Wild and Scenic Rivers. We ask Congress to:

  • Support the Administration’s fiscal year 2013 proposal of $69.5 million to ensure the natural, cultural and historical resource protection provided by the Conservation Lands for the American public.
  • Restore the Challenge Cost Share Program at full funding of $19 million. This program provides a one-to-one match for volunteer activities.

Renewable Energy 

The Wilderness Society is a strong proponent of transitioning our country to a sustainable energy economy by developing our renewable energy resources quickly and responsibly. With the resources requested in the fiscal year 2013 budget, we hope the Department of the Interior will continue to work to meet and exceed the President’s goal of siting over 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by the end of this year. This will be accomplished through expedient environmental review, suitability screening and energy zone identification to find suitable places for needed renewable energy projects. In particular, we urge Congress to:

  • Support the request for a $15.3 million increase from the enacted 2012 budget for renewable energy programs, bringing the 2013 request to $86.5 million.
  • Support the Department’s request to fund BLM’s renewable energy activity at $26.8 million, a $7.1 million increase from 2012.
  • Support the proposed increase of $3.7 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service to review and permit renewable energy projects.

National Wildlife Refuge System Funding

The National Wildlife Refuge System is the world’s finest network of protected lands and waters. Designed to conserve our fish and wildlife resources, refuges are located in every state and territory and provide enormous economic benefit for their local communities. Every year, the System attracts 45 million tourists, hunters, fishermen, and other recreationists, generating $1.7 billion in sales, sustaining nearly 27,000 jobs annually, and contributing over $185 million in tax revenue. The Refuge System has been under increasing fiscal strain, however, with an operations and maintenance backlog of over $3 billion.

  • We urge Congress to support the refuge system by approving funding at the President’s recommendation of $494.8 million

National Forest Restoration

Programs like Legacy Roads and Trails and Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration are key to ensuring restoration efforts are successful and Congress should continue to prioritize funding for these programs. To achieve forest restoration goals in FY 13, TWS recommends that Congress:

  • Fully fund the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program at $40 million
  • Partially restore Legacy Roads and Trails funding by providing $75 million
  • Continue the Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR) as a 3-region pilot program, and work closely with the forest service and stakeholders to ensure transparency and accountability for the activities and outcomes of the pilot program

National Forest Wilderness and Recreation

America’s National Wilderness Preservation System is an international model for land conservation. Yet our wilderness areas are suffering from a lack of funding. Trail maintenance, law enforcement, monitoring and user education are all significantly underfunded, leading to an erosion of wilderness values and a diminishing experience for wilderness visitors.

We urge Congress to support wilderness and recreation by retaining 2012 funding levels of $281.2 million for the Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness Program.

National Forest Trails

The Forest Service trails system serves over 50 million visitors with cross-country skiing, hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking opportunities each year. The National Forest System is responsible for 153,000 miles of trails, but only 21 percent are currently maintained to standards. The trail maintenance backlog had reached $296 million as of 2010, and the backlog continues to grow despite thousands of hours of trail work from volunteers and youth organizations each year. The miles of trails have grown 56.9% since 1977 to accommodate the 376% growth in annual visitor-days on the trail system.

However, the trails maintenance and reconstruction budget line item has remained flat since 1980, increasing only 1.75% after adjusting for inflation. In addition, the lack of sufficient funds to maintain trails continues to leave trails closed or unsafe for visitors, and creates avoidable environmental degradation that is costly to undo. Despite these tremendous and growing needs, in 2012 the trails budget was cut 4% to $81.982 million.

The president’s proposed 2013 budget proposes a negligible increase to $81.985 million, and we strongly recommend Congress support at least that level of funding, but consider increasing it in light of the direct impact this program has on millions of Americans’ recreational experiences.

Council on Environmental Quality

CEQ serves as the principal environmental policy advisor to the President. CEQ has broad statutory responsibilities for advising the president in the development of environmental policies and legislation, assessing and reporting trends in environmental quality and recommending appropriate response strategies, and overseeing implementation of NEPA. Additionally, CEQ has a lead role in facilitating the development and permitting of utility-scale renewable energy projects – projects which will reduce foreign energy dependence and create jobs. CEQ’s staff ranged from 50-70 in the 1970s and 80s, but it is currently staffed by only 24 full-time employees.

Additional resources will enhance CEQ’s ability to continue its mission of protecting the public health, safety, and environmental quality of our communities by implementing our nation’s environmental policies

Landscape Level Science and Conservation

We support the budget request for funding Cooperative Landscape Conservation and Adaptive Science at $33.1 million, an increase of $856,000. This funding supports the operations of 14 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. 

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