Conservation Funding Gets Big Boost: Senate invests in wildlife, climate change, wildfire and more

Great Blue Heron in flight at sunset. Photo by William C. Gladish.

Wildlife, wildfire suppression, climate change research and other natural resource programs get a much-needed boost in funding in the 2010 Interior Appropriations bill. The 16.8 percent increase is a welcome change after eight years of inadequate funding that had led to the shutdown of some National Wildlife Refuges and research programs, as well as shortfalls in funding for firefighting on public lands.

“With this funding, our public lands managers will have more resources to conserve lands, fight wildfires and fund scientific research that will help America better respond to climate change,” TWS President William H. Meadows said of the $32.24 billion package, which includes $4.6 billion in funding over FY2009 levels. “Americans have led the world in conserving lands and waters, and this is a welcome investment that will continue to repay our efforts for generations to come.’

Securing this boosted funding has been a major priority for The Wilderness Society. Throughout the past year, our experts testified before Congress and regularly met with appropriations staff and land management agencies to help inform their judgment about programs that care for wildlife and wildlands.

Our leadership of the conservation community’s annual Green Budget project also ensured that Congress was informed about programs that most need funding. A significant number of our requests were included in the $32.24 billion appropriations package.

One of the most important components of the Interior funding bill is the creation of new funds the Department of the Interior and Forest Service will use to cover the wildly escalating costs of fire suppression. Borrowing from the concept of the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME Act) that the House had passed previously, the new funds will reduce the need for the agencies to transfer funds from vital programs and services to pay for wildfire suppression.

Dawes Glacier in Tongass National Forest, Alaska.The bill also provides approximately $385 million for research and development that will examine the effects of climate change on the U.S. and what can be done to help the country respond to the problems it poses.

According to TWS appropriations analyst Alan Rowsome, the 2010 funding bill is a boon for critical conservation programs including the National Wildlife Refuge System: It will see a $40 million increase. “The budget for our refuges has been raked over the coals so badly that some refuges had to shut down,” Rowsome said. “This increase is long overdue.”

The bill also provides:

  • $90 million to restore watersheds and improve recreational opportunities by decommissioning obsolete roads and maintaining trails through the Legacy Road and Trail Remediation Program.
  • $75 million for the National Landscape Conservation System, which protects some of the most spectacular scenery managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
  • $306 million for land acquisition projects on the federal and state level. Funding for this program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, comes from royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling. “This improved funding level is a step in the right direction, but we do want to see LWCF get the $900 million it is meant to receive each year,” Rowsome said.
  • $77 million to conserve open space, wildlife habitat and clean water while allowing for sustainable timber harvesting under the Forest Legacy Program.

Great Blue Heron in flight at sunset. Photo by William C. Gladish.
Dawes Glacier in Tongass National Forest, Alaska.