The Nature Conservancy’s analysis of the 2011 federal spending bill (H.R. 1473) highlights good and bad news for conservation.
“The good news is that effective conservation programs that the House originally called for eliminating were not zeroed out. Most of the harmful, anti-environment riders were dropped, and U.S. action to address the implications of climate change will continue. We are grateful to the President and Senate leadership for preventing a catastrophe for programs that support our natural world,” said Robert Bendick, the Conservancy’s director of U.S. government relations. “But the cuts are still unprecedented and will damage protection of air, land and water in this country and around the world.”
The cuts will impact federal support for national, state and local parks and forests; wildlife habitat; clean water and air; working farms and ranches; adaptation to climate change; and U.S. international environmental commitments.
“While conservation should share in the budget reductions, American voters have been clear: they want protection of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the lands that sustain us,” Bendick continued. “As Congress considers next year’s federal budget, the Conservancy is saying that it’s possible to help the economy while protecting the environment, and that conservation pays for itself in America.”
Healthy lands and waters generate $730 billion a year for America's economy through such activities as hiking, fishing, hunting and skiing. One out of every 20 jobs in the US is linked to outdoor recreation, according to industry studies. Our national forests provide more than $4.3 billion in clean water each year, according to economists.
The majority of voters believe we can continue to protect the environment while strengthening the economy. A recent poll by Colorado College of Western states showed that voters overwhelmingly believe that “we can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time, without having to choose one over the other” (77 percent).
Following are details on cuts to key conservation and environmental programs (compared to FY10 enacted levels).
Land and Wildlife Protection
Protection of America’s important lands and wildlife habitat took a significant hit in the budget cuts. One of the country’s most popular conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, was cut 33 percent, even though it has a dedicated funding source from offshore drilling fees and does not cost taxpayers a single dollar. This program helps expand national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, protects hunting and fishing areas, and funds local projects like city parks and playing fields.
State and Tribal Wildlife grants were cut 31 percent. This is the nation's premier program for keeping species off the endangered species list by supporting non-regulatory, state-based conservation efforts to keep common species common. The program leverages more than $100 million per year in state and private dollars and directly supports jobs in nearly all states.
The Cooperative Endangered Species Fund was cut 29 percent. This program is the federal government’s primary means to help states and territories carry out conservation projects to benefit threatened and endangered species.
The North American Wetlands Conservation Fund was cut 21 percent. This is a key program, and especially popular with sportsmen, for conserving waterfowl and other migratory bird habitat by providing a catalyst for non-federal funding and fostering public and private sector partnerships.
International Climate Investments
Overall, the bill represents a slight pull-back on international climate investments at a time these investments should be growing. These investments represent just three cents out of every $100 in the U.S. federal budget; but they play an outsized role in contributing to the United States’ security in the world, not only through their fulfillment of U.S. commitments, but through the positive effects they have on people and communities throughout the developing nations of the world.
The Conservancy is particularly grateful to see that U.S assistance to developing countries is maintained at fiscal year 2010 levels. These prudent investments are important for international conservation and for U.S. engagement with key countries around the world. Unfortunately, U.S. contributions to important multi-lateral programs such as the Strategic Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility, both of which leverage engagement from other countries, are seriously underfunded. This will contribute to diminish U.S. influence in the advancing global efforts to address climate change and other environmental threats.
“The Nature Conservancy thanks President Obama and Senator Reid for their firm stances against anti-environmental riders; we hope they will continue to remain unwavering in defending EPA’s efforts to protect the public’s health and the environment in additional negotiations later this year,” said Bendick.
Water and Agriculture
EPA’s overall budget was cut 16 percent. Its programs that support large aquatic ecosystems, such as Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River and more were cut in total by 31 percent. The Army Corps of Engineers was funded at $578 million below the FY10 enacted level, but the impact to ecosystem restoration projects will not be known until the Corps releases a detailed budget.
NOAA’s overall budget was cut by $140 million from FY10 enacted levels, but the impact to coastal restoration programs will not be known until the agency releases its detailed budget.
Agriculture programs were cut $3 billion, which includes zeroing out two conservation programs, the Watershed and Flood Prevention program and Resource Conservation and Development program.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.