This month, the environmental community released its Green Investments 2015 Budget, a proposal for Congress to invest in our lands and wildlife and put a halt to harmful cuts that hurt both our environment and our economy.
Defenders of Wildlife played a large role in drafting the section of the budget that deals with wildlife conservation. We emphasized that wildlife-related recreation makes an important contribution to our economy (nearly $145 billion in 2011) and showed how crippling cuts to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) programs threaten local economies. We highlighted several important programs and issues that desperately need better funding, including:
The Endangered Species Program
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has helped prevent the extinction of our nation’s treasured wildlife for over 40 years. But it’s not just wildlife that wins: it’s been shown that the ESA also helps communities by maintaining healthy ecosystems and supporting the wildlife recreation industry. Unfortunately, the ESA suffered a 14.6 percent reduction in real dollars from FY10 to FY13. And that makes it much harder for the FWS to do its job in protecting wildlife under the ESA. Lack of funding hinders habitat restoration and endangered species recovery. For example, recovery of Florida manatees has been delayed because FWS doesn’t have the funds to restore some of the seagrass beds the species needs to survive. Cuts have also delayed crucial endangered species research and FWS review of potentially harmful energy projects. To protect our wildlife and our local economies, we need to make sure the ESA gets the full funding it deserves.
The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS)
The NWRS is the largest land and water system in the world dedicated to wildlife conservation. It provides vital habitat for over 2,100 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish, and many refuges are of critical importance to the recovery of threatened and endangered species like the polar bear, Florida panther and sea turtle. But budget cuts and sequestration have harmed the important work wildlife managers do on refuges. For example, wetland restoration has plummeted by 77 percent, and restoration of forest habitat has declined by 51 percent. This despite the fact that we know restoring wetlands can help reduce the impact of violent storms and hurricanes, and forest restoration is integral to wildfire control.
Migratory birds are an important part of healthy ecosystems across the nation, and it’s critical that we protect them. From bird photographers who travel the world to backyard bird enthusiasts, bird watching is a multi-billion dollar industry. Migratory birds also play important roles as prey for other species, for pest control and even as pollinators. But the FWS Migratory Bird Management Program has been hit with a devastating 20 percent cut in real dollars between FY10 and FY13. The Neotropical Migratory Bird Fund saw even bigger cuts of 32 percent! FWS’ reduced capacity to conserve migratory bird habitat and maintain healthy populations could have serious consequences for birds, habitat and ecosystems in South America and beyond.
Office of Law Enforcement
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works hard to protect wildlife both domestically and abroad from criminal activity. From catching smugglers bringing monkeys and parrots into the U.S. for the underground pet trade, to stopping illegal habitat destruction, FWS law enforcement officers face serious risks to do their jobs. But funding for this program, too, is running dry: over the past three years, it suffered a 17.8 percent reduction in real dollars. This despite the fact that the illicit wildlife trade ranks third in terms of monetary impacts, behind only the illegal drug and arms trade. In fact, the president considered it so important that he issued an executive order to address wildlife trafficking in 2013.
These are just a few of many U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs suffering from budget decisions that refuse to acknowledge the value of our natural lands and wildlife. It’s time for our leaders in Congress to recognize that they’re a national treasure of critical importance to our economy, to be protected and supported through a healthy federal budget. If we keep chipping away at wildlife-focused programs, it won’t be long before our prosperity as a nation chips away, too.
– Haley McKey, Communications Associate