Congress should reject deep cuts to conservation

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Mary Jean Huston
Monday, July 25, 2011

From fishing and boating to hunting and biking, we Badgers love outdoor Wisconsin. And we’re blessed with a wealth of forests, lakes and rivers that not only provide places for us to stretch our legs and restore our spirits but that serve as the foundation of strong communities and economies.

No one understands this more, perhaps, than Congressman Paul Ryan who, as a past leader of the Sportsmen’s Caucus, has been a strong supporter of hunters and anglers.

Right now, however, our natural resources are threatened by proposed spending cuts to conservation programs such as the Land and Water Conservation fund and the State Wildlife Grants program that Congress is considering.

While we share Congressman Ryan’s concern for the deficit and believe conservation programs should shoulder their fair share of the budget cuts, the federal budget cannot and should not be balanced on the back of our natural resources. Federal spending on land, water, ocean and wildlife programs makes up only about 1 percent of the total federal budget and is clearly not the cause of the nation’s budget instability, nor will making further cuts to these programs solve the deficit crisis.

The proposed cuts might even lead to greater economic problems as outdoor recreation, agriculture, forestry and other businesses that rely on healthy lands and waters lose revenue and jobs.

For example, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is facing a drastic cut of 78 percent, bringing funding to its lowest level in the 45-year history of the program. In Wisconsin, this program helped protect the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest, Nicolet Hardwood Timberlands, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and other lands and waters all over the state for hunting, fishing and many types of recreation.

Because LWCF is funded by federal offshore oil and gas lease revenues, rather than taxes, cutting it will not help balance the budget.

Other important programs, such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund (NAWCA) and the State Wildlife Grants program, are also facing severe cuts, in the case of NAWCA by 76 percent. These programs protect our lands and waters and the many benefits they provide, including keeping our air and water clean and reducing the devastating impacts of severe flooding.

Cuts to these federal conservation programs are cuts to proven, cost-share programs that use small amounts of federal funding to leverage larger contributions by states and many private conservation and citizens groups.

Keeping our land and water healthy is not a luxury we can only afford when times are good. It is a wise investment in a strong economy, our health and our children’s future.

I hope you will join me in urging Congressman Ryan to vote “no” on the House Appropriations bill containing these deep, shortsighted cuts proposed to conservation programs that would irrevocably damage Wisconsin’s and the nation’s ability to protect the lands and waters at the heart of our health, prosperity and economic strength.

Mary Jean Huston is director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. Readers can reach her by email at wisconsin@tnc.org.

Last updated: 5:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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