A Republican budget proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives that would eliminate or drastically reduce several major fish and wildlife programs has conservation organizations from around the country fighting mad.
The proposal in HR1 would affect the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grant Program, the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant Program, agricultural conservation programs and portions of the Clean Water Act.
"Conservation funding by Congress is critical to funding on-the-ground projects," said Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-based Mule Deer Foundation, one of over 600 conservation groups opposing the cuts. "Many of the conservation budget cuts are in programs that are matched several times over by conservation groups, state and local agencies as well as private landowners."
Opponents of the cuts have been issuing news releases, holding conference calls and rallying members in an effort to preserve some if not all of the money which amounts to about one half of 1 percent of the federal budget.
HR1 will be debated this week as funding to run the federal government expires Friday. According to Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Senate Democratic majority is offering amendments to the bill, including the restoration of cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and state wildlife grants. The Senate amendment also does not contain language that would cut Wetlands Act dollars.
"Finding ways to reduce the massive federal deficit simply must be done," said Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited. "But in doing so, let's make sure to support those federal investments that pay for themselves several times over, and be critical of those that are truly wasteful. Conservation always, and continues to, pay for itself. Congress and the administration should approach the budget challenge with facts and analyses, not a meat cleaver."
The groups fighting the cuts make several arguments.
In the case of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and North American Wetlands Conservation Act, federal dollars must be matched by state or local governments or private organizations. That can sometimes double, triple or even quadruple the original federal investment.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses no general tax funds. Money for its projects that have been used to build or purchase lands for dozens of city parks throughout Utah comes from revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling.
In the case of the Clean Water Act riders, HR1 deals more with changing policy than it does for providing tax dollars.
"Sportsmen and women are willing to shoulder our share of budget cuts, but we will cry foul when faced with disproportionate cuts and ill-conceived legislative riders, which should not be on appropriations bills," said Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs of Trout Unlimited. "Congress has a duty to address our fiscal problems in a way that is worthy of the support of all Americans who love the outdoors."
Mark Humpbert of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies argued in a conference call that the State Wildlife Grant dollars not only helped bring back game species such as the wild turkey but provides money for the 90 percent of U.S. Wildlife that is not hunted nor fished. He said this money helps state develop plans to prevent species from being listed as endangered.
Proposed conservation cuts
Land and Water Conservation Fund • The U.S. House proposes cutting $398 million 90 percent from this program, and would essentially eliminate a fund that comes from offshore oil and gas drilling, which is authorized to spend $900 million.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grant Program • The entire $47.6 million for this program which offers competitive grants for the conservation of waterfowl, wetland-associated birds and wetlands would be cut.
State and Tribal Wildlife Grant Program • The entire $90 million budget would be eliminated for this effort to protect fish and wildlife in their habitats.
Agricultural Conservation Programs • More than $350 million would be cut for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, proving incentives for landowners to improve land management and farming practices to help fish and wildlife. The bill proposes cutting $190 million from the Farm Service Agency, gutting conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program. It would also cut the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service by $170 million and cap the Wetlands Reserve Program at 202,218 acres.
Clean Water Act Riders • These cuts would stop efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to partially restore Clean Water Act protection for some wetlands and streams, which were curtailed by Supreme Court decisions.
Source • 16 Conservation organizations