2013 Budget shows some green for conservation

Fishing on the Snake River

Scott Bosse Greater Yellowstone Coalition

President Obama released his 2013 budget request to Congress on Feb. 13, and it contains strong funding for conservation and renewable energy programs. In a tough budget climate like the one that we’re currently in, finding bright spots in the federal budget can be difficult.

The commitment to conservation and renewable energy in the 2013 budget shows that the Obama administration realizes the strong benefits of conservation and clean energy to the American economy.  See what experts at The Wilderness Society have to say about the President’s budget request:

Alan Rowsome, Director of Conservation Funding
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 on the Snake River in Idaho, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, and many other wild places all over the country.

This is a very strong commitment to  LWCF – it is significantly more than the program received in 2012, so it is clear that the administration recognizes the value that lands protected with LWCF 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 National Wildlife Refuges home.

Ben Friedman, National Landscape Conservation System Legislative Assistant
It was a good year for the National Landscape Conservation System, part of the Bureau of Land Management. Many of the programs under the NLCS umbrella are at near-highest or highest levels of funding. National Monuments and National Conservation Areas saw a $3.3 million increase to $35.1 million and Wilderness Management, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National and Historic Trails all saw increases as well.

Sage grouse conservation, an increasingly important species facing fragmented and dwindling habitat also saw efforts to protect habitat receive a $15 million boost over 2012 levels.

Anne Merwin, Director of Policy and Government Affairs, TWS National Forest Action Center
There is mixed report on the National Forest funding front.  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 would continue to support twenty collaborative forest restoration projects that are currently under way.  On the downside, the Recreation Heritage & Wilderness program, which is responsible for providing recreational opportunities, volunteer coordination, and wilderness management, would be cut 5% under the President’s budget.  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, which has already lead 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 TWS 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.

Chase Huntley, Director Renewable Energy Campaign
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.

Paul Sanford, Recreation Director
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 NPS natural, cultural, and recreational resources. The President's budget also includes flat funding of $10M for the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA), which provides technical support to states, local communities and NGOs in developing recreational opportunities outside park boundaries, and is seen as an important program for implementation of the America's Great Outdoors initiative.

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Overall, the President’s 2013 budget request is one that shows this administration understands that we  need continued investments into clean energy and wild places in America.  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 US economy every year.  The President’s budget proposal now goes to Congress, where we 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.

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