A Better Way to Meet Vermont Needs: Invest in Nature

A Response to the President’s Recent Budget Proposal

By Heather Furman, Vermont State Director, The Nature Conservancy on March 17, 2017

We all depend on healthy lands and waters in Vermont for jobs, food, security and prosperity. 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 slashes some critical conservation and environment programs through dramatic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA’s Sea Grant Program and more. 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.

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 Vermonters can help by asking our representatives to do that.

Nature is a cost-effective investment that generates impressive returns for all Americans. Across our country, healthy soils support 17 million agricultural jobs—about 9.3 percent of total U.S. employment. Healthy forests provide 3 million jobs and healthy fisheries support nearly 1.8 million more. As we pass the five-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy, we should remember that nature - like intact wetlands - shielded communities and prevented more than $625 million in flood damages.

Congress and the administration will have significant opportunities to invest in nature to provide cost-effective solutions to some of our biggest national challenges in the months ahead.

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 all Americans who benefit from them.

For example, Congress should permanently reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This program uses non-tax dollars from royalty payments on offshore energy production to fund conservation work in every state—from local ballparks and boat ramps to national parks and historic places. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped protect some of Vermont’s most treasured places. Vermont has received approximately $123 million over the past five decades, protecting invaluable assets like the Green Mountain National Forest, Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield State Forests, and Green River Reservoir State Park. Congress should also ensure adequate funding for conservation and science programs at other federal agencies, including international programs that support stability and goodwill with allies abroad which, in turn, keeps our citizens safer.

Second, leaders of both parties have identified infrastructure as a “must” for congressional action. Beyond the obvious need to repair and upgrade crumbling roads and bridges, we can invest in proven “natural infrastructure” solutions, like restoring wetlands and protecting forests to shield communities from storms, while also providing clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and resource-related jobs.

According to the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont, upstream wetlands and floodplains along Otter Creek protected Middlebury from as much as $1.8 million in flood damage during Tropical Storm Irene.

Third, the Farm Bill supports voluntary efforts by farmers, ranchers and foresters nationwide 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. Farm Bill programs play a vital role here in Vermont as well, helping to enhance agricultural and forest productivity and tackle the urgent water quality problems in Lake Champlain and other aquatic systems. Reauthorizing and enhancing the Farm Bill’s conservation title 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.

We invite our fellow Vermonters join us in using our “outside voice” to speak up for nature by encouraging our representatives to take advantage of these promising opportunities to invest in our nation’s lands and waters – and bring benefits to all of us. Go to www.nature.org/act to help.

Categories: Heather Furman, Administration, Budget, Invest in Nature

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