July 11th, 2012 by

It’s a really tough political climate for conservation programs right now.

We just saw the House and Senate propose programmatic and funding cuts to conservation programs in the Farm Bill, cuts that would eliminate at least $6 billion in funding and consolidate 23 programs to 13 over the next 10 years. Congress is moving quickly to pass this legislation before the August recess and the current bill’s expiration date in September. The Senate has already passed their version of the bill, and now, it’s onto the House Agriculture Committee to markup their version today. Even deeper cuts are being proposed on the House side — approximately $12 billion more than the Senate bill. And if that isn’t already concerning enough, we’re seeing even more conservation cuts in other pieces of legislation.

Protection of Glacier National Park in Montana is partly funded by LWCF. Credit: jessicafm/Flickr

The House Appropriations Committee recently approved the Interior and Environment Appropriations Budget Bill for fiscal year 2013. This bill authorizes funding levels for the Department of the Interior (DOI), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental agencies. The most notable cuts were to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (under DOI), the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the EPA. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a funding cut of 20 percent or more, affecting endangered species protection, wildlife refuge restoration and wildlife-associated recreation. The LWCF, which was dropped in the Transportation bill and is currently funded at $345 million through Interior Appropriations, could be cut to $66 million in FY 2013. This is a significant loss as this program funds restoration of outdoor recreation areas, national forests, wildlife refuges, and historic sites across the country. As far as the EPA, the bill brings the agency funding back to its 1998 level!  That puts our health at risk as EPA regulates our water and air quality.

So what is there do about these funding cuts? You can contact your members of Congress by writing on their Facebook pages, urging them to support conservation funding — adding your voice to those of the conservation, wildlife and recreation groups that have already spoken out against the Interior and Environment Appropriations Budget Bill and its several anti-environmental riders.

Protection of the Zuni Mountain Landscape in New Mexico is funded by CFLRP. Credit: Ben Burkland/Carolyn Cook/Flickr

There is a bright side to the situation, though. There are still champions in the House, like House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Subcommittee Ranking Member James Moran (D-VA), sticking up for conservation programs. Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) noted that Interior and Environment Appropriations Budget Bill goes against our nation’s long history of bipartisan support for environmental and natural resource protection.

Thankfully, programs like the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) and Urban Forest Research were spared in the Interior Appropriations funding cuts. American Forests worked with Representative Moran’s office to advocate for urban and community forestry-related research. Though it seems like there isn’t much to cheer about, there are plenty of people and organizations working hard to find new vehicles to fund conservation work.