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12/04/2012

Fiscal Showdown: What's At Stake for our lands?

Our nation currently faces an alarming issue: the blunt and indiscriminate slashing of funding across all environmental and conservation agencies.  Unless Congress acts to address the country’s budget woes, nearly one billion dollars could be cut from agencies that manage our lands, waters, and wildlife, according to an Office of Management and Budget report.[i] Such cuts would do little to stabilize debt in the long run, leaving the general debt trajectory unchanged while risking some of America’s best loved places and the economic gains they provide.  The summary of the cuts is below:

Agency

Sequestration Cut Amount

Forest Service:

$431,544,000

BLM:

$113,526,000

BOEM:

$13,202,000

BSEE:

$16,154,000

FWS:

$195,690,000

NPS:

$217,288,000

Total cuts:

$978,404,000

 

U.S. Forest Service

As climate change causes droughts and higher temperatures nationwide, wildfire risks will continue to increase well past the natural level. The Forest Service manages two-thirds of the firefighting resources in America, and is largely responsible for keeping Americans safe from wildfires, which burned 9 million acres as of October 2012. The cost of firefighting efforts has exceeded the budget for years; since 2002, $2.2 billion has been diverted from other Forest Service programs to pay for firefighting.[ii] Ironically, these programs include wildfire prevention such as prescribed burns and brush removal.[iii] Cutting funding for an agency already experiencing financial difficulties would be detrimental and senseless. Work done by the Forest Service is integral to millions of Americans and our environment. Forests and the people who work in them provide clean drinking water, clean air, invasive species management, and recreation.

Bitteroot
Bitterroot National Forest, Montana. Photo credit: John McColgan, Alaska Forest Service

Bureau of Land Management

            The nation’s largest land manager, the Bureau of Land Management, administers over 253 million acres of land. The BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System (NCLS) encompasses the ecologically diverse and breathtaking lands of the West, and protects habitat for wildlife, key riparian corridors, and cultural and archaeological sites. Landscape in these areas includes the jagged peaks of the Rockies, vast Arctic tundra, windswept ocean coastlines, and wild red-rock deserts. Wildlife in these areas is diverse, with many threatened or endangered species making their homes in BLM-managed lands. With sequestration cuts of $115 million, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationalists could witness the deterioration of pristine landscape; fewer staff means less enforcement of environmental laws, as well as less trail and facilities maintenance, hindering visitors’ enjoyment of these priceless areas.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

BP fire
Smoke rising from 2010 BP Macondo well blowout. Photo credit: National Oil Spill Commission

In the wake of the second-worst oil spill in history, Congress established the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) in 2010. These organizations manage offshore energy development and exploration (traditional and renewable), development and enforcement of regulations improving worker safety, oil spill prevention and response, and environmental protection. Over $29 million is cut from these two programs only two years after the devastating Deepwater Horizon spill. Offshore development needs effective management and oversight from a responsible agency, as we learned too late from the failure of the corrupt Minerals Management Service. Additionally, these agencies need funding to further our offshore winds’ tremendous potential for clean energy, such as the milestone Cape Wind project.

National Park Service

The National Park Service is one of our best-loved government agencies. In the true spirit of America, these treasured places are available to all Americans to explore and enjoy: public lands make America unique and reflect our democratic ideals. Since Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872, our nation has taken pride in preserving and honoring these priceless places. In 2010, over 281 million visitors traveled to parks to experience the outdoors and to learn about our history, our heritage, and the natural world around us. A University of Michigan study found that visitors to the National Parks System contributed $31 billion to local economies and supported 258,000 jobs in 2010.[iv] The NPS now faces almost $218 million in budget cuts. Such deep cuts could cause national park staff furloughs, leading to decreased ability to staff visitor centers, campsites, and protect wildlife and visitors.

  Yosemite Falls

 Yosemite Falls and Cook's Meadow in early May, Yosemite National Park. Photo credit: NPS.

American Support

This is not a partisan issue. Americans from all walks of life love the land they live on and want it to be protected. Cutting budgets from departments that protect our land and support our economy is the wrong answer. It is bad for the economy, bad for the environment, and bad for America.

Our nation faces blunt and indiscriminate budget cuts if Congress fails to act. Help to protect the lands we love: contact your representative and tell them to stop sequestration and protect our public lands.

Click here to take action NOW.

--Athan ManuelDirector, Sierra Club Lands Protection Program

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