By Frogard Ryan on March 28, 2017
We all depend on healthy lands and waters for jobs, food, security and prosperity. I saw this growing up in Germany, and I’ve seen it in my work with The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, Africa and, now, for several years, in Connecticut.
In turn, these irreplaceable natural resources depend on all of us, including our elected officials. Unfortunately, the President’s recent budget proposal doesn’t meet that end of the bargain.
It hits some critical conservation and environment programs through dramatic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior, Department of Commerce and more.
In Connecticut, the potential impacts of such cuts aren’t hard to find.
Take Long Island Sound. The Sound is enormously valuable to people. Evidence from a 2015 Earth Economics report captured just some of the economic benefits of the Sound, including food, storm and flood protection, recreation, and tourism—and their annual values ranged from $17 billion-37 billion.
The National Estuary Program and the Long Island Sound Study partnerships administered by Environmental Protection Agency—or EPA—have made huge contributions to the well-being of the Sound. EPA and state efforts were critical in decreasing releases of toxic contaminants into the Sound watershed by 86 percent from 1988 to 2010. Combined federal, state and local efforts also led to the reopening for shellfishing of 950 acres of the Sound off Westport and 2,500 acres in Hempstead Harbor, N.Y.
Not only must we keep those hard-fought benefits from eroding, but more improvement is needed as excess nitrogen continues to pose a serious threat to the Sound and the livelihoods it supports.
Meanwhile, a team and ship from the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been conducting the seafloor mapping in Long Island Sound. And, Sea Grant—a federally funded coastal program that’s proposed for elimination—was called on by state lawmakers to lead completion of a Long Island Sound Resource and Use Inventory to help guide creation of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan.
Why does all this matter? Seafloor mapping helps improve the safety of shipping navigation and enables us to better protect critical habitats for fish—including many species of commercial and recreational importance—while the Blue Plan will help protect traditional uses of the Sound as well as sensitive natural resources.
The list goes on.
Cutting programs that conserve our natural resources is not the answer America needs. There is a better way. Congress can instead prioritize investments in nature, and Connecticut’s citizens can help by asking our representatives to do that.
Here are four ideas to get them started:
First, Congress should maintain strong funding for conservation and science in the federal budget. Natural resource and environmental programs make up only about 1 percent of the federal budget, and funding for them has not kept pace with our growing economy and population. Cutting these programs will contribute little to overall budget savings, but cost much to the Americans who benefit from them.
Second, leaders of both parties have identified infrastructure as a “must” for congressional action. Beyond the obvious need to repair and upgrade crumbling roads, bridges and dams, we can invest in proven “natural infrastructure” solutions, like restoring reefs and wetlands to shield coastal communities from storms, while also providing clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and jobs through commercial and recreational fishing.
Third, the Farm Bill supports voluntary efforts by farmers, ranchers and foresters to improve the health of their soils and waters, not only making their lands more productive and profitable, but also improving water and air quality for neighboring communities by restoring natural habitat and reducing nutrient runoff. Reauthorizing and enhancing conservation programs within the Farm Bill should be a high priority for Congress and the Trump administration.
Finally, as a part of the tax reform package they are likely to consider, Congress can enact tax credits or other fiscal incentives to stimulate cost-effective private investments in natural infrastructure that creates public benefits.
Conserving our nation’s natural resources is not a partisan issue, and it is not optional.
Nature is essential to our well-being, and it offers solutions to some of the greatest economic and security challenges we face.