This week the House Appropriations Committee will consider the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill that was reported out by the subcommittee last week. The Nature Conservancy is voicing deep concerns about the impacts the proposed budget cuts will have on programs that protect and manage our country’s natural resources. Natural resource and environmental programs are being singled out for deep and disproportionate cuts despite the fact that all of these programs together only amount to around 1% of the budget. In addition, spending on these programs has grown hardly at all over the last 30 years.
Several weeks ago the Conservancy was a co-signer with more than 400 forestry, agriculture, hunting, fishing and conservation groups on a letter to budget negotiators stressing the importance of these conservation programs that are responsible for protecting our natural resource programs.
Particularly hard hit are programs that provide funding to state and local governments, private landowners and non-profit organizations to help communities protect local lands, waters and wildlife. Examples of these cuts are described below.
As the bill stands now, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is reduced to the lowest level in its 45-year history, $61 million--an 86% reduction from the FY10 enacted level. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped Indiana protect our forest lands in southern Indiana by acquiring land within the boundaries of the Hoosier National Forest, Indiana’s only national forest. At this level of funding, none of the land protection projects proposed by the President will be funded for the upcoming fiscal year.
Funding for the Forest Legacy program, which provides forest conservation grants to states, is proposed to be slashed to $3 million, a 93% reduction from the FY10 enacted level. In Indiana, Forest Legacy has partnered with willing landowners to ensure that nearly 7,500 acres of important private forest land will remain forested.
The bill will also sharply reduce funding for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program to $22 million, a 76% reduction from the FY10 enacted level. This will severely limit the ability of states and their partners to implement projects to protect wildlife and their habitat. In Indiana this program has been a significant source of funding for reestablishing river otters in our waterways.
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), the premier program to conserve migratory waterfowl, faces a 60% reduction from the current budget. NAWCA contributed significantly to the 8,000-acre Goose Pond restoration in Greene County, as well as to the 7,000-acre Kankakee Sands Efroymson Restoration in Newton County. Birders and backyard bird enthusiasts will note funding for its smaller companion program, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, is proposed to be eliminated.
“Federal spending on land, water, and wildlife programs comprises only about 1 percent of the total Federal budget,” said Mary McConnell, state director for The Nature Conservancy’s Indiana Chapter. “Making disproportionate cuts to these programs will not solve the deficit crisis.”
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations
The full House has approved reductions in appropriations for the conservation programs contained in the Farm Bill--programs that encourage farmers and forest land owners to conserve and manage their land in ways that reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, mitigate the risks of flood damage and provide wildlife habitat. Conservation programs in the Farm Bill were cut significantly during the full House action on the Agriculture Appropriations bill, June 16, 2011. One of the key programs impacted is the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), a voluntary program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. The House proposal will cut new enrollment acres by 60%.
The cuts to forest legacy, state & tribal wildlife grants, NAWCA and similar programs mean less money for programs that use small amounts of federal funding to leverage larger contributions by states and many citizens groups. This leveraging supports vitally needed conservation and habitat enhancement projects on the ground that are economic drivers, particularly in rural areas, for a wide array of recreation, tourism, hunting and fishing industries.
Investment in the long term stewardship of the remarkable natural resources of our country is essential to the strength of our economy, the health and safety of our citizens, and the character of the American way of life. It is our hope that as the 2012 federal budget continues to move through Congress, these cuts are significantly reduced through negotiations among the House, the Senate and the Administration.
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.
Director of Government Relations