TR IV Report to Congress Shows Need for Funds

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Conservationists Decry Devastating Congressional Cuts in Public Lands & Wildlife Programs

(05/19/1999) - Conservationists warn that natural resource programs will be facing draconian budget cuts under FY 2000 funding allocation levels passed by the House Appropriations Committee today. Yesterday the leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee released their proposal for funding reductions. Both committees were compelled to reduce funding in order to comply with overall budget targets recommended by the congressional budget committees.

Under the funding scenario approved by the House committee today, national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and other programs to protect land, fish and wildlife could face as much as a 20 percent cut in funding below FY 1999 levels and a 25 percent reduction below the President’s FY 2000 request.

“It is appalling that the congressional budget leadership is proposing to gouge our nation’s land and wildlife legacy at a time when House and Senate natural resources committee leaders agree on a bipartisan basis that we need to increase our commitment to land and wildlife conservation," says Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife and a spokesperson for a coalition of “green" groups working on conservation appropriations. Dr. Brent Blackwelder, President of Friends of the Earth, adds that, "The House and Senate budget allocations highlight the hypocrisy of this Congress. On Tuesday, the House passes a $15 billion emergency spending bill loaded with pork. On Wednesday, they cut environmental programs by 25 percent. It's an outrage."

The news on the funding cuts came as Congress prepares to move forward with its FY 2000 spending bills. In setting spending levels for next year, the congressional committees claimed they were bound by the FY 1998 Balanced Budget Agreement (BBA), which severely restricts discretionary spending amounts until 2002. These spending caps were put in place to control deficit spending, but are now questionable given the large budget surplus the federal government is experiencing. Unless these caps are revised or ignored (as is being done to pass the current “emergency" supplemental appropriations), natural resource protection programs will be devastated.

“Cuts of this magnitude would cripple national parks around the country," says Thomas Kiernan, President of the National Parks & Conservation Association. “The allocation for Interior is an outrage," declares Bill Meadows, President of The Wilderness Society. “The proposed cut is equal to the budgets of the National Park Service and the Fish & Wildlife Service combined. It’s unreasonable to believe the agencies can sustain this kind of budgetary blow–even in an across-the-board cut."

In conclusion, according to Gene Karpinski, Executive Director, U.S. Public Interest Research Group. the conservationists believe that "For too long, programs benefitting our public lands and wildlife have been underfunded and overlooked. It's time to start investing in our natural heritage."

Congressional appropriations leaders are proposing to slash programs that conserve our public lands and wildlife despite strong evidence that these programs already are chronically underfunded, according to the Public Lands Funding Initiative (PLFI), a broad coalition of more than 100 environmental, conservation, and recreation groups representing millions of Americans.

The PLFI funding position is endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt IV, an investment banker and great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. Just last month, Roosevelt and the coalition sent a report to every Member of Congress entitled “Public Lands Funding Initiative -- Leaving a Legacy for Generations to Come." The report describes the funding crisis threatening our public lands and other natural resource stewardship programs and advocates a $3 billion increase over the next five years, including a $1 billion increase for FY 2000.

The report notes that the PLFI’s recommended increases are only the bare-bones minimum needed to support some currently unmet conservation and resource management requirements of the natural resource agencies -- and that with a healthy economy continuing to produce budget surpluses, additional funds should be invested in maintaining the value of these publicly held natural assets.

In his letter accompanying the PLFI report to Capitol Hill, Mr. Roosevelt described the funding crisis threatening our public lands: “For years we have neglected one of our most valuable national assets – our public lands and wildlife. The infrastructure of our natural heritage is deteriorating. If we do not act soon, the damage to our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other public lands will be irreparable."

The House committee funding allocation, set at $11.3 billion, would result in approximately a 20 percent cut compared to FY 1999 and a 25 percent cut below levels requested by the President for FY2000 and recommended by the Public Lands Funding Initiative. The resulting funding level would be the lowest in recent years - the next lowest was $12.7 billion in FY97. The Senate allocation would not cut as deep, but would still result in a destructive 10 percent cut below the President’s request and PLFI recommendations.

In March, as Congress was developing an overall budget resolution, the Clinton Administration estimated that even less severe budget reductions would have devastating impacts on Interior Department programs. At that time, the Administration said that impacts could include:

  • Elimination of the President’s Lands Legacy Initiative, a proposal to expand federal protection of critical lands across America and helping states and communities to preserve local green space through full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund;
  • Elimination of the President’s $100 million proposal to help restore salmon in the Pacific Northwest;
  • Shutting down some parks or dramatically curtailing park operations and maintenance; and
  • Reductions in force of thousands of full-time employees.

A copy of Mr. Roosevelt’s letter and the list of PLFI endorsers is available. For a hard copy of the PLFI report, please contact Mary Beth Beetham at Defenders of Wildlife at (202) 682-9400, ext 231.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270