By Austin Bosworth, American Forests
A budget is more than just money: It is a representation of priorities and opportunities. Appropriations funds enable us to fight wildfires, protect endangered species and even help forests threatened by diseases and invasive species. The power to make changes in our environment and defend the things we love is unlocked through fair and balanced allocations — neither of which describe the new administration’s skinny budget.
The word “skinny” in skinny budget specifies that it is a broad and general plan for appropriations, lacking any lengthy explanations; ironically, it also aptly describes what it could do to the funding that protects our forests and wildlife. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would be cut by 21 percent under the new plan, which, if spread evenly across all USDA departments, will decimate the U.S. Forest Service budget by $1.5 billion. The skinny budget does specify that wildlands fire management will remain fully funded at 100 percent of the 10-year average. On the surface this sounds like good news, but this means that all non-fire programs could be diminished even further, to make up the 21-percent cut.
These programs include the Cooperative Forestry Programs, which help protect private forests, establish urban forestry programs in cities, ensure watershed quality and so much more. The Land and Water Conservation Fund would also be staring down the barrel, threatening its “bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.” In addition to these cuts, if the wildfire funding issue is not fixed, more funds will be “borrowed” from these accounts to make up the costs of wildfire suppression, as the 10-year average was not enough in 12 of the last 15 years.
In 2016, the National Park Service made it possible for 330 million people to witness the grandeur of the American landscape — a new record by almost 10%. This is lost on the President’s budget, however, with a 12-percent cut to the Department of the Interior. One of the most important aspects of a national park experience is the people who make that experience special, and this budget reduction would prevent 1,000 seasonal rangers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and maintenance staff from coming back to the parks this year. Without them, smaller parks will close to prevent the larger parks from experiencing debilitating staff shortages. This is only half the story, unfortunately. The cut would reduce forest habitat stewardship on many national wildlife refuges, while also hindering visitor accessibility and adversely impacting vital habitat for wildlife — including species at risk of extinction.
It’s not just the men and women working in the landscapes that will no longer be on the frontlines, but also the regulators who ensure water quality, air purity and safeguards against pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency would receive a 31-percent cut by the administration’s skinny budget, meaning a loss of 3,200 workers and $2.4 billion from its budget. In reality, this will have a much more devastating effect, because much of that money is matched and leveraged by state programs. These programs fund things like water infrastructure grants, which, for example, maintain the 400-mile journey the California aqueduct makes from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to southern California. More than 50 EPA programs are threatened by this budget, programs that fund everything from climate research to coastal cleanups — like the Chesapeake Bay cleanup project, which would lose all $73 million in funding.
This newly proposed budget defines the President’s priorities. Priorities that do not include protecting endangered wildlife, mitigating pollution or restoring our forests. Not only is this budget drastic in nature, it is also reckless — at a time when climate scientists are documenting increasing rates of climate change, America’s forests and wildlife should be at the forefront of our government’s concerns. Without their attention, our beautiful and wild backyards will be less beautiful, less wild and less protected.
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