Report illustrates deep cuts to conservation programs

A park ranger assists a young visitor. 

Credit: National Park Service, flickr.

A new report from The Wilderness Society and partner groups illustrates the damages of years of budget cuts to vital conservation programs, asking Congress and President Obama to restore order in Fiscal Year 2015 and beyond.

The report, titled “Green Investments,” highlights the need for lawmakers to appropriately fund programs that safeguard America’s natural resources and the agencies that oversee them, which together account for only a tiny sliver of what the government spends in a given year.

Read the “Green Investments” report

2014 Green Investments by The Wilderness Society

“All federal spending on environmental, conservation and renewable energy programs amounts to barely one percent of the federal budget,” said Cameron Witten, government relations associate at The Wilderness Society. “Yet these vital programs reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, protect the water that our national forests provide to one in six Americans, and preserve and maintain access to our public lands, which contribute significantly to the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.”

A few examples of the negative impacts recent budget cuts have had on conservation programs:

  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund
    • What it is: 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. It has secured, supported and helped maintain public spaces from Grand Canyon National Park to local trails and ball fields.
    • How budget cuts are harming the program: Over the course of the program’s life, more than $18 billion has been diverted from its trust fund by Congress. In the last year, nearly $600 million was diverted away from the program, leaving many upkeep projects unfinished and pieces of land unprotected.
  • The Legacy Roads and Trails program
    • What it is: The LRT 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, it helps maintain those roads that are necessary for public safety, decommission those that are not, restore fragmented fish habitat and reduce sediment pollution.
    • How budget cuts are harming the program: Every $1 million dollars cut from the program means 656 acres of terrestrial habitat and 4 miles of stream habitat will not be restored, and 45 miles of necessary roads will not be maintained, resulting in a loss of public access.
  • The National Park Service
    • What it is: The NPS oversees perhaps our most visible, iconic public lands, more than 400 areas covering some 84 million acres. These parks support more than $30 billion in economic activity each year and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
    • How budget cuts are harming the program: The budget to operate these parks has been cut by more than 7%, $180 million in today’s dollars, compared to four years ago. The agency has been forced to cut staff, close parks and carry a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog.

“In this 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act, it is critical that Congress and the Administration once again invest in conservation, natural resources and the environment,” said Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director at The Wilderness Society.

Tell Congress to fund programs that protect our lands and support the economy.