I remember watching TV as a kid and seeing USDA Forest Service ads with Smokey Bear and his famous catchphrase, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” I also just learned that Smokey’s fire-safety campaign is the longest-running PSA campaign in U.S. history! Last week, House Republicans considered cutting Forest Service educational programs, including the famous Smokey campaign.
But this isn’t just about Smokey the Bear and PSAs. It’s about all environmental education programs. House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) led the charge in an online voting program called YouCut, which allowed people to vote on programs that the House should cut spending on. Environmental literacy programs run by the Forest Service were up for voting on last week’s YouCut ballot. The site stated that while students may benefit from environmental education, using taxpayer dollars to generate advocacy is inappropriate.
Inappropriate? As a taxpayer, I feel good knowing that children are being taught about sustainability and conservation with my tax money. These programs promote going outdoors and being active. Children need to learn to develop healthy habits and a sense of environmental responsibility. Online voters felt the same way and were able to spare the Forest Service education programs. The House GOP’s reasoning to cut environmental education is that it would reduce federal spending and save taxpayers $50 million over the next 10 years. While that may seem like a large number, it’s actually a tiny amount by federal government spending figures. Also, by cutting these programs, costs could increase in other areas like wildfire relief. Many communities rely on Forest Service education programs to increase public awareness about wildfire prevention. Without widespread public awareness, more fires could occur, and the cost of fighting these fires could increase.
Right now, with Congress scrambling to put together a budget for next year, I’m glad to see the government actually reaching out to see what people think is important. But it’s not going to be solved with just a one-time vote. This YouCut ballot is a victory for environmental education, but be sure to watch out for what other environmental programs may be up next.