Sequester. Fiscal Cliff. These terms are all over the news these days. What do they have to do with wildlife? Plenty, as it turns out. Quite simply, they signify budget cuts that will be devastating to wildlife conservation.
In the summer of 2011, when the President and Congress agreed to legislation to raise the federal debt limit, they also agreed to two sets of budget cuts to reduce the deficit. The first set of cuts – $1 trillion over 10 years – became effective immediately. For the second set of cuts, Congress established what became known as the “Supercommittee,” tasked with reaching a budget deal by January 2012 to further reduce the deficit by at least an additional $1.2 trillion. To give the “Supercommittee” plenty of motivation to reach a deal, the legislation also called for automatic and painful cuts across most federal programs that would be triggered in January 2013 to achieve deficit reduction if they couldn’t reach an agreement. These automatic cuts are called “sequestration.” As was reported widely in the press last December, the “Supercommittee” failed to develop a budget agreement and, unless Congress identifies an alternative way to reduce the deficit by January, most programs that Americans care about, including those that protect our wildlife and environment, will suffer damaging cuts. Our nation will be hurled off the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
What would the cuts mean for wildlife?
Our national wildlife refuges, forests and other public lands would be severely impacted. Many national wildlife refuges likely would be forced to close or cut back on management work, putting at risk vulnerable creatures and habitats, and disappointing many of the 45 million wildlife enthusiasts that visit refuges every year. Since visitation at wildlife refuges generates an economic contribution of more than $4.2 billion each year, closing refuges would also harm local communities and economies. Many recreation and education programs on refuges would be cut back or abolished entirely. The number of refuge law enforcement officers would be reduced, threatening the security of visitors and wildlife.
Cutbacks to national forests and grasslands would harm an amazing array of habitats, from alpine tundra to deciduous, evergreen and tropical rain forests, as well as native grasslands and wetlands. Species such as grizzly bears, wolverine, elk, Canada lynx, bighorn sheep and numerous freshwater creatures would be put at risk. Since national forests support $9.5 billion in annual retail sales and provide drinking water for about 66 million Americans, many communities and regions would also suffer.
Reductions in Bureau of Land Management conservation work would also threaten much of what remains of vanishing prairie grasslands, sage-brush, and desert, some of our nation’s most fragile and iconic landscapes, and home to creatures like the desert tortoise, sage grouse, and black-footed ferret. As with forests and refuges, communities around these lands would also feel the pain – in 2010 alone, about 4 million visitors generated nearly $4.2 billion on wildlife associated recreation.
Other crucial wildlife conservation programs would be impacted. The work to save and recover the 1,400 U.S. animals and plants listed under the Endangered Species Act, which includes species such as manatees, sea turtles, whooping cranes and sea otters would be cut back with disastrous consequences. Research needed to stop White-nose Syndrome, a devastating disease that has killed up to 6.7 million bats and continues to spread, will be reduced or potentially stopped. Reductions in the numbers of wildlife law enforcement agents and inspectors would slow or curtail much of the work to combat global illegal wildlife trade, such as breaking up smuggling rings that traffic in rhinoceros horn, sea turtle parts and jaguar skins — activities that are also often linked to organized crime and drugs. The cuts would hamper many efforts to protect the birds that live in or migrate through the U.S. and grace the backyards and communities of America. Many Hawaiian, ocean and grassland bird populations are already in severe decline. Finally, the cuts would compromise our nation’s international leadership in protecting wildlife in other parts of the globe. Even with our fiscal problems, America is wealthy relative to desperate situations in many areas around the world, and modest investments of U.S. conservation dollars can reap significant returns when invested in the world’s environment and wildlife. The loss of this funding will be deeply felt. Click here to learn more about the wildlife conservation programs that will be cut under the sequester.
When Congress returns after the election, they can stop this disaster if they sit down together, along with the President, to come to an agreement. But they have to be willing to do so. And since wildlife can’t vote, it’s our job to make sure someone who can is speaking out on their behalf. Help us tell Congress to keep these much-needed protections for wildlife species and their habitats.