Rocky Mountain National Park, which was protected with the help of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Credit: John B. Kalla, flickr.
On June 16 and 18, House and Senate committees are set to consider appropriations bills to fund the Interior Department for the coming year. It is vital that lawmakers choose to adequately fund conservation, rejecting counterproductive “riders” and deep cuts to important programs.
Congress has shortchanged conservation for decades, cutting funding for the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies that help protect the outdoors and make it easier for us to enjoy them safely. Now, they have a chance to repair some of that damage.
Two conservation funding issues that most urgently need to be addressed:
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire on Sept. 30. Congress must act to reauthorize it and keep it permanently funded. For the past 50 years, 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. 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. But over the course of its lifetime, billions of dollars have been diverted from its trust fund by Congress, leaving many recreation and restoration projects unfinished and pieces of land unprotected.
- Congress must find a way to fight wildfires without robbing important conservation programs. 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.
A recent report from The Wilderness Society and other groups points to dozens of programs that have been shortchanged repeatedly, harming public lands conservation, national park maintenance, clean water and access to outdoor recreation. In spite of the clear danger to our parks and other protected public lands, Congress is again proposing additional drastic cuts for conservation programs. It is imperative that Congress reinvest in these chronically underfunded programs that defend and safeguard our public lands—instead of cutting their budgets to the bone.
Conservation programs make up a fraction of the federal budget—scarcely more than 1 percent. Yet funding them helps to boost jobs, improve outdoor recreation opportunities and support a tourism industry that many communities rely on.
As Congress debates the federal budget for the coming fiscal year, we will work to make sure your voices are heard: funding conservation programs is essential!