The President's Budget: A Mixed Bag on Wildlife Protection

Yesterday, President Obama sent his fiscal year 2011 budget to Congress.  From the point of view of environmental policy there’s a lot to like, particularly when it comes to promoting clean energy.  (For a good roundup of some of the particulars see Cai Steger’s analysis of the clean energy provisions here and Amy Mall’s take on oil and gas impacts here.)

There are also some good things in the President’s budget aimed at protecting wildlife.  Among some of the highlights:

  • Increased funding for regional science centers to study the impact of global warming on wildlife;
  • More money to implement actions identified in recovery plans (which are prepared for species protected under the Endangered species Act);
  • Additional dollars for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; and
  • Increased money for ecosystem restoration in places like the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades.

But these positives are somewhat overshadowed by cuts to one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's most basic functions: identifying and protecting wildlife and plants in need of the Endangered Species Act's safety net.

The President's budget contains a 9.4 8.8% cut in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's budget for putting new species on the endangered and threatened species list and a 9.1 5.2% cut in the budget for conserving species that are candidates for listing.

This is even the more worrisome considering that, even under the Service's 2010 budget, by its own admission the agency had far less money than needed to meet its Endangered Species Act listing backlog.  It’s estimated that clearing the backlog would cost $200 million dollars.  Staff levels at the agency have also fallen dangerously low.  In 2010, the Conservation Community recommended that the Service be given $32 millions for listing and $15 million for candidate conservation.  That’s still not enough, but it’s a third more funding that President Obama has proposed.

Finally, I couldn’t help but be deeply disappointed to see that the President is proposing to cut $1.9 million in research funds for white nose syndrome, a deadly disorder devastating bat populations around the country.  As Sylvia noted this fall, these funds were secured by Senators Lautenberg of New Jersey and Leahy of Vermont and are badly needed to help meet an estimated $55 million dollars in research needs over the next five years.