Hopes for the Next Four Years: Conservation Funding

Dual inflatable kayaks on the Owyhee River

John McCarthy

The re-election of President Obama opens up new opportunities to protect wild places. The Wilderness Society will feature a series on what we hope to see in the next four years, both from the administration and from Congress.

With budget crises like the ones that Washington keeps facing, investing in conservation continues to be a difficult task, and programs for the great outdoors have already been cut. Even though America’s wild places help fuel a $646 billion outdoor recreation economy, the future of America’s parks, wildlife refuges, and wild forests is in jeopardy from budget cuts in Washington.

The first priority is to ensure that the looming budget cuts (known as the “sequester”) do not cause irreparable harm to America’s parks, refuges, and forests.  These cuts could:

  • Close some National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and other wild lands that Americans enjoy: The massive cuts would drastically reduce the operations budgets for National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Recreation Areas, and other places Americans love. Rather than being able to escape for a weekend of solitude, hikers could find “CLOSED” signs on their favorite trails.

Cuts would also mean:

  • Fewer park rangers
  • An end to youth education programs
  • Closed visitor centers (including restroom facilities)
  • Suspended road and trail maintenance

Smartly investing in conservation goes beyond the budget sequester. There are still other things that Congress and the Administration must do in the next four years, including:

  • Guaranteeing full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund: This fund, which is paid for with the royalties that oil and gas companies pay to drill on American public lands, has been underfunded for years. Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, there would be no way to add to existing National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges or other federal lands. The success of the Land and Water Conservation Fund practically speaks for itself, and it should be fully funded to continue that legacy.
  • Continuing to support the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and the Legacy Roads and Trails program: These two programs have been at the heart of some of the greatest successes in forest protection. The CFLRP has been responsible for protecting thousands of acres of forests from devastating wildfires, and creating thousands of jobs restoring forests and harvesting lumber.  Legacy Roads and Trails have been successful in removing unused logging roads to improve habitat and protect forest health.

Funding programs like these have an incredible effect on the economy. Outdoor recreation supports more than 6 million jobs in the US, and returns nearly $80 million in federal, state and local taxes. Without healthy, well-funded and well maintained areas like National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges, this economic engine would run out of gas.

Hopes for the Next Four Years