Rural Jobs and America's Public Lands

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On October 18, 2011, The Wilderness Society sent a report titled Rural Jobs and America’s Public Lands: Putting Rural America Back to Work to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, urging them to consider the benefits of conservation and recreation to the American economy.

The following letter to co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Jeb Hensarling accompanied the report:

Dear Senator Murray and Representative Hensarling:

As the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (Joint Committee) carries out its mission, we urge you to take a balanced approach in finding savings while safeguarding critical programs that create jobs in our rural communities.

We refer the Joint Committee to previous reports which have outlined ways to cut wasteful spending while protecting our natural resources.  For example, the House Natural Resources Ranking Member, Rep. Ed Markey, has provided various examples of ineffectual and wasteful spending that would provide significant savings.

We also urge the Joint Committee to refrain from cutting spending for programs that support jobs in rural communities. Rural areas across the country have been among the hardest hit by the recession over the past three years. The Joint Committee has a unique opportunity to protect and create rural jobs, while also continuing critical support for our wild places. The Wilderness Society has targeted specific areas in the federal budget that need to be protected and invested in so that Rural America can get back to work.  Some examples include:

  • Make no further cuts to discretionary funding sources so that we can fund the Department of Interior and Forest Service at consistent and robust levels each year, starting with $30 billion in 2012. DOI and USFS managed lands have a huge and disproportionate impact on the jobs and economic stability of rural communities
  • Protect and invest in  the growing outdoor recreation economy by investing in the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at its full funding level of $900 million annually
  • Support the USDA Forest Service “Integrated Resource Restoration Pilot” program funded at $122 million in the FY 2012 Interior Appropriation bill
  • Support establishment of a Smart from the Start renewable energy program at DOI that guides development to areas of comparably low resource value
  • Support programs that put Americans to work by saving energy, such as the Weatherization Assistance Program, stronger appliance and building energy standards, and financing for energy efficiency investments by homeowners, small businesses, schools and hospitals

Preservation of our public land is vital for promoting job creation in surrounding rural areas. We urge the Joint Committee to keep that mind as you do this important work that will affect our nation’s future in so many ways.  As our report, “Rural Jobs and America’s Public Lands” illustrates, there are many opportunities for the Joint Committee and the full Congress to act for the benefit of our rural communities and the nation’s economy as a whole.