State of the Union preview: Budget Sequester

Arches National Park

courtesy of the National Park Service

The state of the Union might be, as all Presidents say, strong.

But the state of America’s parks, wildlife refuges, and hiking trails are in serious jeopardy from budget cuts that could take effect on March 1st.  These budget cuts, known as the “sequester” inside the DC Beltway, could have a devastating impact on national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other wild lands. Unlike previous cuts to conservation that targeted individual programs, the sequester would be an across-the-board cut to all programs at once.

President Obama will almost certainly talk about the sequester in the State of the Union address. These budget cuts were originally supposed to kick in at the beginning of the year, but were postponed until March 1st to give more time for Congress to find an alternative solution. 

The cuts to conservation programs would lead to some depressing sights, including (but sadly, not limited to):

  • An end to environmental programs for schoolchildren at National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges.
  • Closed visitors centers, even the restrooms
  • Gates barring access to popular hiking trails, fishing spots, and campgrounds
  • Fewer resources to fight catastrophic wildfires

These are just a few of the possible scenarios, and there are plenty of others that are just as bad.

In his speech tonight, President Obama should pledge to defend our parks, wildlife refuges, and wild places from the worst of these cuts. The conservation portion of the federal budget is barely over 1% - and that 1% provides a lot of economic oomph. Outdoor recreation – which relies on healthy and open public lands – is a $646 billion per year industry.

Moreover, there are easy places where we can save money that can be put towards conservation. The oil and gas industry receives at least $4 billion in unneeded tax breaks and giveaways each and every year. That’s enough money to pay for every dollar of the National Wildlife Refuge System’s maintenance backlog in just one year, with an extra billion dollars to spare. Imagine what the next year’s savings could be put towards.

Now is the time for President Obama to protect conservation funding and keep America’s wild places healthy, vibrant, and open.