With limited legislative vehicles trickling through Congress these days, the annual appropriations process provides a rare opportunity for progress. Unfortunately, the FY20 year-end appropriations package fell short on many environmental priorities—including for wildlife. However, there are also some important victories that should not be overlooked. Here's the upshot:
In a win for our work to protect the North Atlantic right whale from extinction, the final package included $3 million in funding for North Atlantic right whale conservation. Increased funding for right whales could not come at a more important time: just some 400 of these majestic creatures remain on Earth, and 2% of the world’s right whales died this past summer alone. The Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill report language directs at least $1 million toward a pilot fishing gear innovation program aimed at addressing the leading threat to right whales: entanglement. NRDC leads the North Atlantic right whale lobby coalition that advocated to secure this language.
Further, in a victory for our work to protect native carnivores and ecosystems, the FY20 appropriations package includes critical funding to support new, nonlethal positions within USDA Wildlife Services that are dedicated to reducing human-carnivore conflict. NRDC worked in partnership with Defenders of Wildlife to advocate for the Agriculture appropriations bill report language, which provides $1.38 million for these Wildlife Services positions in up to 12 states (WA, OR, CA, ID, MT, WY, CO, NM, AZ, MN, WI, and MI). Securing federal funding for these positions is a tremendous victory for our carnivore conflict prevention work and will help conserve native carnivore species in states across the country.
The package also contains moderate increases for Endangered Species Act implementation, including an additional $14.2 million above FY19 levels for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species program. This much-needed funding moves the agency closer to being able to implement the Endangered Species Act as Congress intended, but still fails to adequately fund our most important law for saving species in danger of extinction, as we face an unprecedented global extinction crisis.
Unfortunately, despite efforts by wildlife champions in the House and Senate, the final package still contains a harmful carry-over provision from previous congresses that prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from considering the greater sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act. In doing so, this anti-conservation rider undermines the law's science-based listing process and imperils an iconic western bird that has suffered an estimated 90 percent population decline from historical levels.
In addition, the FY20 package provides $1.4 billion in funding for President Trump’s infamous border wall. New border wall construction will cause permanent damage to borderland communities, imperiled wildlife and fragile lands. Thankfully, the House of Representatives included report language maintaining restrictions on wall construction through a National Butterfly Center and near the sensitive Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley, a critical area for the region’s migrating birds, butterflies, and endangered species.
As we look toward the FY21 appropriations cycle, NRDC will continue working to remove anti-environmental riders like the sage grouse listing prohibition and to increase funding for priorities like endangered species conservation.