Deep cuts to key conservation programs in Senate legislation prompt partisan backlash that could impede the bill; sportsmen urge Congress to address funding decreases
Washington, DC -(AmmoLand.com)- A spending plan for the Interior Department and related agencies for fiscal year 2016 was advanced by the Senate Appropriations Committee this week, but the future of the bill – and consequently the ability of Congress to pass a budget via the regular appropriations process – remains in doubt due to heavy-handed cuts to a number of important conservation programs.
Sportsmen are criticizing both the cuts and the Senate's failure to reach accord on the bill, which cuts an astounding $2.2 billion from the administration's proposed budget for Interior, environment and related agencies – and which follows a similarly unpopular budget bill advanced by the House earlier this week.
“This week, Congress reminded the American people that our current budgeting process is incapable of supporting the essential investments in natural resources that drive economic growth, create jobs and sustain our outdoor traditions,” said BHA Conservation Director John Gale. “Citizens deserve better than this. Instead of disabling important projects and programs, let's get back to funding science and providing adequate resources for agencies to actively manage habitat, conserve fish and wildlife, and increase access and opportunity for hunters and anglers.”
Notable cuts in the Senate bill include the following:
- Land and Water Conservation Fund: $292 million is provided for land acquisition, conservation easements and state assistance grants, which is $14 million below FY 2015 levels and $108 million below the level requested by the administration.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: The bill fails to augment funding for wildlife refuge maintenance, holds funding for National
- Wildlife Refuge System operations at FY 2015 levels and cuts funds for refuge law enforcement by $2 million.
- National Park Service: $2.73 billion is allocated for national parks – $112 million above FY 2015 enacted levels but $321 million below the administration's requested level. (Ironically, this would underfund parks in 2016, when the National Park Service celebrates its centennial.) While $30 million is earmarked for maintenance and repairs, this falls far short of the $121 million requested by the administration to help address a $11.5 billion maintenance backlog in the park system.
- Environmental Protection Agency: The EPA's operating budget is deeply cut, including a $75 million reduction for conservation programs and a $7.5 million reduction for civil and criminal enforcement. A proposal by the administration to support states in implementing rules related to climate change also is eliminated.
The Senate bill includes a number of harmful riders, including one blocking implementation of the “waters of the U.S.” rule, which would restore clarity to the federal Clean Water Act, conserve valuable fisheries and wetlands habitat and protect drinking water relied upon by millions of Americans. Another would prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from fulfilling its obligations under the Endangered Species Act and issuing a decision on whether the greater sage-grouse should be listed as endangered under the ESA.
However, Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, both from Montana, introduced separate amendments to the Senate bill that would address Land and Water Conservation Fund funding. Their efforts elicited positive comments from BHA's Montana chapter.
“We appreciate the leadership of Senators Tester and Daines in attempting to increase funding levels for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said John Sullivan, co-chair of BHA's Montana chapter. “Montana's elected leaders understand the importance of programs that benefit fish and wildlife habitat and expand recreational opportunities, including backcountry hunting and fishing.”
The Daines amendment, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, passed yesterday on a voice vote. While both measures addressed the need to ensure funding for the LWCF, the program will expire in September without reauthorization by Congress. Sportsmen and other constituents remain invested in averting the LWCF's expiration.
“By utilizing revenues from the development of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – to support the conservation of another – our land and water – the LWCF supports increased public access and makes important conservation investments that don't require a single cent of taxpayer dollars,” said Sullivan, an avid sportsman and resident of Missoula. “All of us who appreciate and enjoy the outdoors have a stake in the continued viability of the LWCF, and sportsmen are committed to ensuring its reauthorization before September.”
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the sportsmen's voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.
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