Soon, Congress will be returning from its August recess and must begin to make some final decisions on funding government programs – including for wildlife conservation – for the coming year. And one of the bills that will be in the mix is the disastrous FY 2014 House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that was passed by the subcommittee in July. In fact the bill was so terrible that action on the bill in the full House Appropriations Committee was abruptly halted only part-way through its consideration. First, the bill guts funding for critical natural resource protection programs at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. Then to top it off, the bill is chock-full of anti-environmental riders designed to strip wildlife protection even further.
Here’s a breakdown of just what’s in the budget-or rather, what’s been hacked out:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
FWS funds would be cut overall by a whopping 27 percent below its 2013 level, a cut that can only be seen as punitive. Of this, 18 percent would be from the Resource Management account, which funds all FWS operating programs. Yet the committee’s report fails to name which specific programs are to be affected, lamely leaving all the tough decisions to the agency. Already defunded critical programs like endangered species listing and recovery, national wildlife refuges, migratory bird protection, work to stop crimes against wildlife and more would be forced to scrape by on even less, starved of funds and unable to serve their purpose effectively.
It gets worse. The budgets of several key cooperative programs, which help landowners, states and tribes protect vital habitat and at-risk wildlife, would be completely zeroed out. These include the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund.
Looking at the committee report, it would seem that the Forest Service actually benefits from an overall budget increase of 2.9 percent. But certain essential programs receive punishing cuts. The bill zeroes out the budget for land management planning entirely, and the Research and Development Program is slashed by an outrageous 63.8 percent. Under this bill, the Forest Service will be too financially hobbled to properly care for our national forests, and their scientific capacity will be cut to the bone.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
LWCF supports the purchase of lands to be permanently protected as part of our national wildlife refuges, forests, parks and other federal and state public lands. The bill originally completely eliminated funding for the program. But an amendment restored funding at $20 million overall – an insulting drop in the bucket for the large-scale habitat protection it’s meant to support.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Funding overall for BLM – which manages some of our most fragile Western sagebrush, desert and prairie grassland habitat – is reduced by about 7.2 percent. Cuts would make it harder to develop renewable energy in a way that minimizes harm to sensitive wildlife species such as eagles and desert tortoise. There is a bright spot, however: the bill fully funds the president’s request for conservation of the greater sage-grouse, an iconic, imperiled bird of the American West vital to the health of its Sagebrush Sea habitat. But the bill also includes a provision that would delay the decision to put the bird on the endangered species list, hindering conservation efforts in the interim. The delay could stall current conservation efforts in the Sagebrush Sea and sets a negative precedent for the congressional micromanagement of agency decisions.
This provision is just one of many anti-environmental riders in the bill.
The bill includes a number of policy provisions, called “riders,” designed to further undermine our natural resource and environment agencies and prevent them from doing the work they were created to do: protecting our nation’s air, water, land and wildlife.
Besides the sage grouse provision, other examples of the House bill’s approximately three dozen anti-environmental riders include:
- Provisions that would impede FWS’ ability to review the best available science when making species listing decisions.
- Language urging Congress to reconsider the a proposal to designate the Mexican gray wolf as an endangered subspecies of the gray wolf, currently being considered as part of a proposal to remove endangered species protections for gray wolves throughout the rest of the lower 48 states. The Mexican wolf desperately needs continued protection – with a wild population of only 75 individuals, it is one of the most imperiled canids in the world.
- A provision that would prohibit FWS from using funds to administratively expand the national wildlife refuge system.
- Language that would arbitrarily limit the power federal land managers have to close lands to fishing, hunting and recreational shooting, even though these closures are made in the interest of public safety and conservation.
- Several provisions that would promote unsustainable grazing on our public lands.
The House Interior funding legislation takes a wrecking ball to the FWS and other agencies tasked with protecting our wildlife and natural resources. It’s unacceptable, and Defenders is dedicated to ensuring it’s never signed into law. We will continue to follow and fight this bill at every step, and we may soon need your help in contacting your representatives and senators.