WASHINGTON — The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its partners lauded key provisions in President Obama's 2010 budget, but also raised concern about some of the cuts and restrictions the President has placed on strategic programs aimed to conserve fish, wildlife and the habitat on which they depend.
"While the sportsmen and conservation community is still examining and digesting the President's budget, we're happy to see that climate change and the Open Fields programs for example are issues that the Obama administration is putting its resources behind," said George Cooper, TRCP president and CEO. "But we're disappointed that the President's budget also includes cuts and restrictions on other programs aimed at conserving habitat on private lands and encouraging property owners to open their lands to hunters and anglers. As the budget goes forward, we look forward to working with the administration and our allies in the House and Senate to ensure that sportsmen programs across the board receive necessary funding."
The highlights of the President's budget include increases in the allocations for wildlife grants to help states implement climate change adaptation programs, comprehensive funding for the implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and support for the new Open Fields program. The lowlights include cuts to Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and Wetlands Reserve Program.
"Many of the issues that we work on at the TRCP have been affected by the President's budget," said Tom Franklin, TRCP senior vice president. "And whether the change is positive or negative, we're looking forward to working with our partners, the administration and congress to make sure that hunters and anglers will continue to benefit from these important conservation programs."
Here are some of the details from President Obama's budget that affect sportsmen:
Department of Agriculture (USDA) Programs
Wetlands and Habitat Conservation on Private Lands:
The suite of conservation programs within the USDA represents the largest federal investment on private land, yet still only accounts for roughly 8 percent of the department's budget. A positive increase of more than $11 million to Technical Assistance within Conservation Operations will provide landowners with proven methods to carry out best management practices on their land.
However key habitat conservation programs saw their budgets decrease under the new proposal. Most notably, the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) saw major reductions from last year's levels — levels that are not consistent with the sportsmen and conservation community's recommendations for achieving maximum benefit to fish and wildlife habitat. WRP — the only USDA program solely dedicated to wetlands conservation and responsible for nearly 2 million acres of wetlands since its inception — was cut by $27 million, from $418 million to $391 million. The very popular WHIP program, which focuses on improving key wildlife habitats, has been underfunded from the program's inception, as applications have outnumbered the funding by a 2-to-1 ratio. Unfortunately this program has been cut by 50 percent in the budget.
TRCP was pleased to see that the new hunter access program, Open Fields, is funded at $50 million in the president's request. Passed in the 2008 Farm Bill, this represents an unprecedented added resource to states to promote public access to hunting and fishing opportunities and thereby stimulate local economies.
U.S. Forest Service (USFS):
The USDA budget also included a $60 million increase in available funds for capital improvements, including national forest road maintenance, upgrading, and decommissioning, within the budget for the USFS. Over 380,000 miles of mapped roads currently exist in the USFS. Maintaining these existing roads should be a priority in addition to a focus on conserving the 58.5 million acres of national forest roadless areas in order to provide continued quality access to important hunting and fishing destinations.
Department of the Interior (DOI) Programs
This initiative has some of the largest increases of any other individual issue in the entire budget. The President included a $133 million department-wide increase in the Interior's budget to combat climate change — including a $15 million increase for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) received the largest increase of any department agency, including a $40 million enhancement to fund State Wildlife Grants. This increase provides the FWS a total of $115 million to help states incorporate climate change adaptation strategies into State Wildlife Action Plans and tribal wildlife plans.
The TRCP lauds the administration for establishing an interagency approach to combat climate change, and establishing a process to monitor resources and recreational uses as agencies move forward with these strategies.
The proposed budget for the DOI's energy development did not address many fish or wildlife concerns. Two visible changes in the budget from the 2009 fiscal year's budget is an initiative to develop more renewable energy sources and an increase in the fee from $4,000 to $6,500 for the application for permit to drill (APD) — making the fee more in line with cost-recovery policies of other industries and is closer to representing what it actually costs the BLM to process an APD. The budget proposes to sustain the level of funding for its oil and gas program at the same capacity to process the same number of permits as they did during the. Although there is an increase in funding for fish and wildlife programs, it is not commensurate with the increases the energy programs are receiving. TRCP believes that more attention is needed to maintain sustainable fish and wildlife populations on public lands and with ever increasing focus on energy programs that will take time and resources away from the biologists tasked with that job. The recommendations contained in the TRCP's FACTS for Fish and Wildlife principles and CAST principles outline the importance of addressing the approach to energy development on public lands and waters to better manage fish and wildlife during energy development on public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf.
Good news for wetlands conservation appears within the DOI budget proposal where funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) sees an increase of $10 million.
Youth Participation and Education:
In order to encourage more young Americans to get outdoors, the president included a total $38 million directed at programs to increase youth involvement in hunting, fishing and conservation. The largest sum of money, $28 million, will go to states to help them fund programs to educate young hunters, anglers and wildlife managers. An additional $8 million will create a 21st century Youth Conservation Corps to encourage a new generation to pursue public service careers within natural resource management.
Other Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Issues:
The budget did put an emphasis on treasured lands managed by the National Park Service and the BLM's National Landscape Conservation System, where a significant amount of important fish and wildlife resources are found. The budget also allows the United States Geological Survey to take a greater role in the use of science in management actions and provided an increase in funding for the Land & Water Conservation Fund.
Department of Commerce Programs
Within the Department of Commerce budget, the administration proposed a $56.5 million increase for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) implementation process. Signed into law in 2007, MSA governs marine fisheries management. The law included many positive changes for recreational saltwater anglers and included all of the SALT Principles recommended by the TRCP's Angling 4 Oceans coalition.
The total budget request for fisheries came to a total of $911.8 million for this fiscal year, which is $32.8 million more than what was enacted in the 2009 fiscal year budget.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Programs
Water and Wetlands Conservation:
The proposed budget for the EPA stands at approximately $10.5 billion for FY 2010. This represents nearly a $3 billion increase over the last fiscal year's enacted budget for the agency. Notably, some 48 percent of this proposal is directed towards Clean and Safe Water goals within EPA including state revolving funds, a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and a Chesapeake Bay program.
One issue that remains very critical to helping restore federal protections for these areas is passing the Clean Water Restoration Act currently under consideration in the Senate and likely to be marked-up in the near future by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. We have been encouraged by supportive statements by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and others for finding a legislative solution to the problem and we urge the administration to continue supporting the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process.