Kings Canyon National Park (California).
Credit: Tom Hilton, flickr.
After years of neglect by the federal government, our country’s conservation programs are in serious need of restoration. A recent report from The Wilderness Society and other groups points to dozens of programs that have been shortchanged repeatedly, to the detriment of public lands conservation, national park maintenance, clean water and access to outdoor recreation. It is imperative that Congress remember these chronically underfunded programs and defend our public lands by restoring the funding they depend on.
Nevertheless, the House and Senate Budget Committees recently proposed federal budgets for the coming year that would result in drastic spending cuts—threatening to significantly erode the quality of our parks, forests and other protected public lands.
The Wilderness Society will continue to fight for a budget that invests in America’s outdoor heritage. Funding for conservation—which includes national parks, forests and wildlife refuges—makes up barely 1 percent of the federal budget, despite the important role these places play in supporting local economies. Our public wildlands and the conservation programs that sustain them deserve more. Please help us by asking Congress to stand up for conservation.
Here are just a few of the programs and initiatives that urgently need funding:
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund: This popular program uses revenues from the depletion of one natural resource—offshore oil and gas—to support the conservation of another—our land and water. Over its 50 years of service, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used to acquire inholdings (parcels of private land within the borders of parks, offered by willing sellers) and has protected everything from national parks (including American icons like the Grand Canyon and Everglades) to local trails and ball fields. But over the course of its lifetime, more than $19 billion has been diverted from its trust fund by Congress, leaving many projects unfinished and pieces of land unprotected.
- A responsible approach to fighting wildfires: Wildfire management costs have increased from 13 percent of the Forest Service budget in 1991 to almost 50 percent today. To keep up, the U.S. Forest Service is forced to divert funds from other popular and effective programs, including those that are specifically intended to reduce the cost and severity of future wildfires. We must support a bipartisan, sustainable approach to fighting wildfires, paying for it the same way we pay to deal with all other natural disasters—without robbing other critical conservation initiatives.
- Taking care of our national parks: National parks saw record visitation in 2014. While this increased traffic is a great step toward getting more Americans in touch with our spectacular public lands, it makes it even more important that we address the staggering maintenance backlog in these treasured landscapes (especially with the approach of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016). Restored funding is urgently needed to help do this: over the last decade, the National Park Service’s total budget has declined by nearly 22 percent—a loss of roughly half a billion dollars in today’s money.
- Climate change adaptation: It is crucial that we take steps to evaluate and prepare for the impacts of climate change. More funding is needed to help land management agencies do this and build resiliency so that wildlife and ecosystems will stay strong and flexible in the years ahead.
- Responsible development of renewable energy: It is vital that the U.S. transition to a clean energy economy by developing renewable energy resources responsibly. This means putting high quality wind and solar projects in the right places and avoiding harm to sensitive wildlands and the species that rely on them. To accomplish this, Congress must fund research to determine which renewable energy projects work, and where we can put them safely.
- A focus on oil and gas reforms: Inspection and enforcement of safety standards for oil and gas development on federal land is crucial for preventing oil spills. A funding boost will help make development safer and reduce the chances of a major environmental disaster.
The House and Senate are holding committee hearings and receiving testimony on federal budget needs, followed by the introduction of appropriations bills that may or may not meet the standards necessary to fund conservation responsibly.
Throughout this process, The Wilderness Society will actively work with lawmakers, urging restored funding for conservation programs in need. The national economy, healthy wildlands and well-managed landscapes depend on the repeal of these cuts, and we will make it our mission to see them through. Please help us by making your voice heard!