Conservation programs gutted by recent appropriations bill

Dixie National Forest, Utah

britsinvade, flickr

A bill passed by the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee would mandate some of the deepest cuts to conservation programs ever proposed by Congress.

This bill is one of the most environmentally disastrous funding bills of late, and leaves many programs and agencies slashed below levels not seen since the Reagan administration. The legislation is a misguided attempt to balance the federal budget on the backs of programs that not only contribute enormous returns to our economy both locally and nationally, but also which make up barely over one percent of the federal budget.

Outdoor recreation alone generates $646 billion every year and supports more than 6 million direct jobs. Photo: Samanthangel, flickr

The Wilderness Society provided our recommendations to the subcommittee for the 2014 budget, earlier this year. It is clear that our testimony, as well as the testimony of local communities, sportsmen, businesses and conservation groups, went unheeded by the House of Representatives as many important programs received substantial cuts, if not elimination.

“This is not why this subcommittee was formed; we were formed to protect the environment.”

In total, 20 conservation programs and huge chunks of the Park Service, Refuge System and Forest Service are completely gutted in this bill, including:

  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund,
  • Forest Legacy Program,
  • Forest Service Planning, and
  • State and Tribal Wildlife Grants.

The legislation proposes almost a $6 billion cut from last year’s conservation budget, which would be devastating to our lands, waters and wildlife. The drastic cuts are so radical that they are an additional $4 billion below the sequester levels, which everyone already agrees was problematic. Ranking Member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA), highlighted several of the bill’s most egregious cuts and voiced disbelief with the bill before leaving the markup in protest. 

Sequoia National Forest, California. Photo: Jerry Ting, flickr

This bill’s failure to provide adequate funding for dozens of vital conservation programs is further compounded with the inclusion of over 30 special interest policy provisions or "riders" that will significantly degrade our environment, our economy and our communities. As Ranking Member Moran pointed out, 13 of these riders are entirely new to this year’s bill, showing the disingenuous nature of this legislation that already has a very low funding allocation. These riders would:

  • Prohibit the Forest Service from considering wilderness additions in forest plan revisions,
  • Prohibit the designation or expansion of wildlife refuges without the consent of congress,
  • Prevent public input by exempting several activities from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and
  • Allow unrestricted ORV use on National Forest System lands.

Bison family on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, flickr

This bill would be devastating for our public lands, as agencies already stretched thin due to sequestration face further cuts that would make it nearly impossible for land managers to protect our environment and natural resources. Sequester has already significantly impacted access to our public lands, undermined our natural disaster and fire response capabilities, and thwarted efforts to manage invasive species and illegal animal trafficking. The reductions below sequester spending in this bill are the equivalent of kicking environmental programs while they’re already down and helpless to defend themselves.

This appropriations bill represents an incredible departure from responsible budgeting. As Ranking Member Moran said, “This is not why this subcommittee was formed; we were formed to protect the environment.” This bill, unfortunately, does exactly the opposite.

On July 31, 2013, the House Appropriations Committee failed to pass the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill out of committee after a five hour markup, effectively punting the decision until September, 2013, though many agree that final passage remains unlikely.

Several amendments were agreed to during the markup, most notably an amendment from Rep. Rooney (R-FL) to give $20 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This funding is directed solely to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Though this amendment is largely symbolic, given that $20 million represents barely over 2 percent of the program's authorized $900 million, it at least shows a commitment from appropriators to not completely defund land and water conservation. 

Regardless of the increase for LWCF, this bill remains an assault to our nation's public lands and natural resources. 

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