Think the Super Bowl battle was big? Fight over conservation funding looms larger

More than 100 million Americans watched the Super Bowl clash between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers but they may not realize there’s an even bigger battle they should tune into this month – the fight over federal spending that could decimate pristine forests, pollute our air and water, close national parks and more.

“The Super Bowl was just a warm-up act compared to what really matters right now,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “Congress is pitted in a high-stakes contest that could run out the clock on protections for our public lands. The outcome of the votes it casts this month could produce dire consequences that affect every person in America.”

Meadows adds that the square-off in question centers around this year’s budget bill in which many members of Congress are proposing to recklessly slash conservation spending by as much as 40 percent – sacking funding for a slew of vital programs and services that protect public health and preserve habitat for wildlife.

The worst plays the new Congress could run include:

• Eliminating the EPA’s authority to hold polluters accountable
• Closing National Parks and Wildlife Refuges
• Cutting back on forest rangers, youth outdoor education, and law enforcement
• Limiting access to hunting and fishing, slashing local jobs, and not protecting our clean water supplies
• Putting off maintenance projects, weed treatment, restoration work, timber cutting, and managing wildfire
• Preventing federal agencies from moving forward with their legal responsibility to protect wild lands, wildlife habitat, and watersheds

“Conservationists should throw a penalty flag for clipping funding for the air we breathe, water we drink and lands we love,” said Craig Gehrke, an Idaho-based regional director for The Wilderness Society.

While details of the Congressional proposals are still emerging, The Wilderness Society seeks to tackle a host of bad ideas.

Failure to fund the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program would threaten drinking water supplied to 66 million people. The cut could also eliminate up to 2,500 jobs. The program funds road and trail improvements, maintenance work and road removal projects that improve the health of local watersheds.

Reducing the amount of money available to local communities to help them defend themselves against wildfires could also force the Forest Service to revert to borrowing money from other vital programs and services, such as campground maintenance, to cover firefighting costs.

Potential cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund of more than 50 percent would mean that up to 100 parcels of natural land would lose funding. This would open them up to residential development, eliminate hunting and fishing access and create barriers that would prevent wildlife migration.

Cuts to the Department of Interior would effectively close an array of beloved national parks and wildlife refuges across the country. Those lands that remain open will have limited resources to provide environmental education programs for youth, campground maintenance/trash removal and public safety.

“This attack on funding for our public lands is unacceptable,” Meadows said. “It’s time for Congress to call an audible on rash spending cuts.  Let’s score the investments necessary to protect the places we love and the natural resources we need to survive.”

Bison herd in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Scorpions and Centaurs, Flickr.