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Don’t Balance the Budget on the Back of America’s Natural Resources; Statement on Interior Appropriations from The Nature Conservancy

Following subcommittee approval today of the 2012 House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, Bob Bendick, Director of U.S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy, released the following statement:


July 07, 2011

“The Nature Conservancy has deep concerns about the impacts proposed budget cuts and policy changes will have on programs that manage our country’s natural resources. Recent actions by the full House and appropriations subcommittees confirm our fears: 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.

The Federal budget cannot and should not be balanced on the back of conservation. More than 400 forestry, agriculture, hunting and fishing, and conservation groups recently sent letters to budget negotiators calling on them to protect funding for our nation’s natural resources.

While we recognize the need to reduce the size of the federal budget, and conservation should do its share, the budget cuts contained in several appropriations bills (Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies; Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies; and Interior, Environment and Related Agencies) subject conservation and environmental restoration to far more than proportional budget reductions. Examples of these cuts are described below.

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. In addition to funding cuts, policy language in these bills curtails implementation of longstanding environmental laws affecting the ability of agencies to protect clean water and air and to protect habitat for plant and animal species. This is not the right way to resolve fundamental environmental policy issues.

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 shortsighted budget decisions will be corrected through negotiations among the House, the Senate and the Administration.”

Interior and Environment Appropriations

The subcommittee mark would reduce funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the lowest level in the 45 year history of the program, $61 million--an 86% reduction from the FY10 enacted level. At this level of funding, none of the land protection projects proposed by the President will be funded, including the continuation of ongoing projects in Montana’s Crown of the Continent, Oregon’s Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, working ranch conservation easements in the Kansas’ Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area, or New England’s Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife & Fish Refuge. In addition, funding for the Forest Legacy program of forest conservation grants to states is proposed to be slashed to $3 million, a 93% reduction from the FY10 enacted level, leaving multi-year phased projects unfunded, including Kentucky’s Big Rivers Corridor, New York’s Follensby Pond and Tennessee’s North Cumberland Conservation Area. The Cooperative Endangered Species Fund, a key grant program that enables states to implement habitat conservation programs to benefit endangered species will receive no funding for land acquisition.

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. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), the premier program to conserve migratory waterfowl, faces a 60% reduction from the President’s budget. Funding for its smaller companion program, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund would be eliminated.

The cuts to forest legacy, state & tribal wildlife grants, NAWCA and similar programs are really cuts to proven, cost-share programs that use small amounts of federal funding to leverage larger contributions by states and many citizens groups. This jointly and cooperatively 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.

The bill also prohibits EPA from reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and refineries, prohibits EPA from protecting all of the waters of the United States from pollution, and prevents the Department of Interior from protecting threatened and endangered species.

Energy and Water Development Appropriations

Protection of our nation’s water and restoration of the critical wetlands and floodplains play a key role in flood damage reduction and in assuring the water quantity and quality that are essential foundations to the health and safety of the American people.  While overall the committee made a credible attempt to meet some of these needs within the wholly inadequate budget levels with which it was forced to contend, the committee bill also includes a legislative rider that would hamper efforts to protect our nation’s critical waters and wetlands.

Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations

The subcommittee mark would reduce funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Since 1996, NOAA has restored more than 69,000 coastal acres and opened more than 2,300 coastal river miles in more than 2,300 restoration projects in 26 states and territories.  These projects provide commercial and recreational opportunities, healthy habitat to support our nation’s fisheries, and resilient coastal communities that can withstand hurricanes, flooding, and other natural and man-made threats. Cuts to core fisheries and habitat restoration programs could undermine recent gains in fisheries stock assessments and set back efforts to set science-based catch limits that will maintain productive fisheries. Furthermore,

The agency’s responsibility to ensure continuity of weather forecasts and climate measures, means these reductions will disproportionately impact  coastal and marine resource management programs like the Coral Reef Conservation Program, Community-based Restoration Program, and the Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Program.

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations

The full House has approved reductions in appropriations for the programs contained in the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill 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. Some key conservation programs impacted include:

  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who face threats to soil, water air and related natural resources and was cut $350 million.
  • Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) provides compensation to willing landowners for placing a conservation easement on crop, grass, and/or forest lands that are threatened by development and was cut $50 million.
  • Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) provides both technical assistance and up to 75% cost share assistance to establish and improve the nations fish and wildlife habitat and was cut $35 million.
  • Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) is a voluntary conservation program that provides support for working grazing operations, enhancement of plant and animal biodiversity, and protection of grassland under threat of conversion to other uses. The House proposal will limit new enrollment to 209,000 acres in FY 2012, far below the 335,332 acres enrolled in FY 2010.
  • Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is a voluntary program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. The House proposal will limit new enrollment to 185,800 acres in FY 2012, far below the 272,762 acres enrolled in FY 2010.
  • The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides landowners with annual payments and cover crop establishment cost-share assistance to convert ecologically sensitive and erodible croplands to long-term vegetative cover, under 10- and 15-year contracts. The House proposal cut this program $141 million.

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.

Contact information

Tracy Jones Connell
The Nature Conservancy
(703) 247-3726
tjonesconnell@tnc.org

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