Caribou in Alaska's Denali National Park.
Credit: flickr, Jay Elhard (Denali National Park and Preserve).
Congress is busy outlining federal spending for the coming year, meaning that they will get another chance to give conservation funding the attention it deserves.
In Jan. 2014, a new federal appropriations bill provided some needed relief to public lands, but the larger problem remains. Although conservation funding boosts local economies, programs and agencies that oversee them have been chronically underfunded. Parks, monuments, Wilderness areas and other cherished places still face shortfalls that undermine wildlife protections and visitor experiences.
These public lands only command about 1 percent of the federal budget, yet funding them boosts jobs, improves outdoor recreation opportunities and supports a tourism industry that many communities rely on. Our public wildlands and the conservation programs that make them so great deserve more.
Programs that have faced recent cuts:
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund: Though its name may be unfamiliar, you have almost certainly enjoyed some of the places that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has supported, from American icons like Denali National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and Everglades National Park to local trails and ball fields. The LWCF uses revenues from the depletion of one natural resource--offshore oil and gas --to support the conservation of another--our land and water. Like the Wilderness Act, this program celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014. Another thing they share: both have been used to safeguard beloved wild places for the enjoyment of generations of Americans.
- The Legacy Roads and Trails Program: Created in 2008, the Legacy Roads and Trails Program helps to repair the extensive environmental damage done to watersheds by the massive network of roads and trails in our national forests. Among other things, the program helps maintain those roads that are necessary for public safety, decommission those that are not, restore fragmented fish habitat and reduce sediment pollution. All told, it has reduced U.S. Forest Service maintenance costs by millions of dollars annually. But while Legacy Roads and Trails is making a difference, much remains to be done.
- National Landscape Conservation System: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has set aside about 27 million acres as National Conservation Lands, including places like Río Grande del Norte National Monument and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. In all, national monuments, Wilderness areas and others in the National Landscape Conservation System receive about one-third of all visitors to BLM lands (despite representing only 10 percent of those lands). These lands also sustain or create 20,000 jobs annually, providing vital support for local economies. Funding is needed for the BLM field teams that perform basic maintenance and upkeep of these sites.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of both the Wilderness Act and Land and Water Conservation Fund, and in that spirit, Congress should come out in support of strong funding for programs that protect our lands, water and wildlife.