Public Lands at Risk from Under Funding

Members of Congress, Conservation Groups Call for Funding to Protect Wildlife, Wild Places

WASHINGTON, DC (May 8, 2002) -- At a press conference today, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-WA), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) called for increased funding to protect America's public lands, wildlife, and natural resources, citing a new report by the nation's leading environmental organizations that says funding levels for public lands and wildlife across the country fall short of what is needed.

"While defense and homeland security receive hefty budget increases, we must also ensure there is a homeland to protect. Our national treasures will wither without roots, choke among thorns, fade without funding," said Rep. Nick J. Rahall, Ranking Democrat, Committee on Resources. "As this report says, these lands are our lands. They belong to all Americans. Today I call upon President Bush to show his compassionate side of conservatism and provide good soil for our seeds to grow."

According to This Land is Our Land: Saving America's Natural Heritage (PDF format), the Bush administration's budget for Fiscal Year 2003 cuts overall discretionary funding for the environment by about $1 billion and plays shell games with some of the most important public lands and wildlife programs, compromising protection of America's natural resources. For example:

Endangered Species: Hundreds of species across the country are threatened with extinction. Yet, lack of funding prevents the US Fish and Wildlife Service from taking needed steps to protect more than 250 additional species, such as the southern Rocky Mountain population of the boreal toad and the New England cottontail rabbit, under the Endangered Species Act. Funding shortfalls may also lead to the extinction of more than 200 listed species, such as Attwater's prairie chicken.

Forests: The US Forest Service spends money on wasteful and damaging timber sales while neglecting the serious preservation and restoration needs of wild forest lands across the country, including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, America's largest and most wild national forest.

Drilling: The administration has found additional funds to permit more oil and gas drilling across the country, but has not shown a similar commitment to addressing the environmental impact of that drilling. The report profiles a proposal for tens of thousands of new wells in Wyoming.

Sprawl: Sprawl and commercial development are a great threat to our public lands, resources, and wildlife, yet dedicated funding to protect our last vestiges of open space and wildlife habitat has been weakened. The president's budget cut the Land, Conservation, Preservation and Infrastructure Improvement Fund by $250 million and cut funding for the Land & Water Conservation Fund. Under the president's budget request, federal land acquisition is reduced by $94 million, or 22 percent, putting places like the Suwannee River Wildlife Corridor in Northern Florida, Balcones Canyonlands in the Texas hill country, and the historic lands of Valley Forge National Historical Park at risk.

Wildlife Habitat: The president's budget also slashed by $25 million the important new State and Tribal Wildlife grants program that for the first time gives states and tribes the funds to develop and implement comprehensive conservation plans, preserving declining species before listing under the Endangered Species Act is necessary. Without funding, states like Washington, Oregon Florida and Massachusetts that have completed or are developing statewide plans will have to return to crisis-driven conservation.

National Parks: Research has shown that the national parks are operating with only two-thirds of the funding to preserve wildlife and cultural and historic artifacts and educate and protect visitors. Public education programs have been cut at Death Valley. Historic buildings are closed to visitors at Valley Forge. Artifacts are crumbling in Acadia's moldy basements. And wildlife is disappearing from Yellowstone. An additional $280 million is needed in the fiscal year 2003 operating budget to meet the critical operating needs of the parks.

National Wildlife Refuges: The National Wildlife Refuge System, our nation's only federal public lands system dedicated primarily to the conservation of fish and wildlife, is on the brink of an historic milestone -- its centennial celebration. Yet the Refuge System suffers severe and chronic funding shortfalls that threaten its teeming array of wildlife and diverse habitats.

Abandoned Mine Lands: Hundreds of abandoned coalmines litter our country, leaking sediment into waterways and causing health and safety hazards to those living nearby. Congress currently has $1.5 billion in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to clean up these sites, but the money is not being appropriated. In order to reclaim these mines and clean up Appalachian communities, at least $300 million needs to be appropriated from this fund.

Key Findings

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: Lack of adequate funding at Yellowstone, the world's first national park, threatens the wildlife and fragile ecosystem of the park. Thirty percent of the park's geothermal areas are unmapped or studied, half of Yellowstone's pronghorn antelope is gone, and there are not enough rangers to provide services and interpretation to the 2.8 million visitors to the park annually.

Bandelier National Park, New Mexico: In New Mexico, lack of adequate funding at Bandelier National Monument threatens the park's unique dwellings, petroglyphs, and other priceless natural and cultural resources. An additional $2.5 million annually is desperately needed for planning and impact studies to protect the resources at Bandelier.

Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania: The historic grounds at Valley Forge National Historical Park have remained virtually unchanged since the Revolutionary War. Today, a developer is threatening to build luxury homes on an in holding in the middle of the park. Increased funding is needed to acquire and preserve the land before it is lost forever.

Threatened Desert Tortoise, California: The threatened desert tortoise makes it's home in the Mojave Desert, but the use of off-road vehicles threatening the survival of this unique species in the desert's delicate landscape. If the tortoise is to survive -- and the countless other threatened and endangered species that make their home on the 264 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management -- an increase of $12 million is required to implement more than 200 recovery activities as well as intensive conservation efforts.

Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon: The Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. The Bureau of Land Management has suggested that Cascade Siskiyou will need more than $2 million in operational funding to effectively protect its resources, but the monument has received no funding since it was designated in June of 2000. For fiscal year 2003, the administration proposed an operating increase of merely $2 million to be shared among all 19 newly-designated National Monuments and National Conservation Areas.

Powder River Basin, Wyoming: Wyoming's Powder River Basin is experiencing an explosion of natural gas drilling with the arrival of a new technology to extract gas trapped in coal seams, or coalbed methane. Within a decade, there may be more than 100,000 wells, forever changing the land and the livelihoods of the ranchers and farmers that make their living in the Powder River basin. Agencies have found the money to permit the wells, but it remains to be seen if sufficient funds will be spent on environmental protection and enforcement to protect the land. For every dollar spent on managing energy and minerals, at least 30 cents should go to environmental monitoring and on the ground enforcement to protect landowners.

Abandoned Coal Mines, West Virginia: Hundreds of abandoned coalmines, such as the Prenter Road site outside Milltown, West Virginia, have left gaping holes in the ground, leaking sediment into waterways and causing health and safety hazards to nearby residents. The Prenter Road site emits toxic drainage and has a pond that may contain toxic chemicals. The $1.9 billion Abandoned Mine and Reclamation fund was created to deal with abandoned mines like Prenter Road, but the funding is often diverted to other purposes.

Tongass National Forest, Alaska: The Tongass, our largest and wildest national forest, is sorely in need of additional funding to maintain its vital wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, the US Forest Service has been spending money in the Tongass on wasteful and damaging timber sales, while neglecting conservation and restoration needs. For example, there is an estimated $40-60 million backlog in fish passage maintenance, but the Forest Service has been budgeting only $500,000 per year for this project. At this rate, it would take 120 years to fix current fish passage problems in the Tongass.

Endangered Bats, Southeast United States: Four of the seven federally endangered bat species in the United States are found in the south: the Indiana bat, gray bat, Ozark big-eared bat, and Virginia bi-eared bat. An increase of $1 million for research and bat conservation would allow US Forest Service Research & Development, through the Southern Research Station, to initiate a new research program focused on southern bats.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, Texas: Rapid growth in the hill country of Texas threatens sensitive lands within the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to endangered neotropical migratory birds, five endangered cave-dwelling invertebrates, and an array of other species. An additional $90.5 million is critically needed to acquire over 60,000 acres of the refuge threatened by development.

Suwannee River Wildlife Corridor (Pinhook Swamp), Northern Florida and Southern Georgia: The Suwannee River Wildlife Cooridor is a nationally significant US Forest Service acquisition that will link the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia and the Osceola National Forest in Florida. Increased funding for acquisition of sensitive lands in the corridor is critical to protect land that is home to an array of sensitive species, including the American alligator, little blue heron, and endangered Florida panther.

State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, Washington: State and Tribal Wildlife Grants support the development and implementation of comprehensive conservation plans across the nation and are critical to the conservation of species like the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit. Yet the administration's budget cuts funding to this important program by $25 million.

Boreal Toad, Colorado: The genetically distinct southern Rocky Mountain population of the boreal toad has plummeted, with the toad close to disappearing from Rocky Mountain National Park. While the US Fish and Wildlife Service has declared that the boreal toad warrants listing as an endangered species, it lacks the money to do so. Fish and Wildlife needs $24 million is needed to address the backlog of species that need protection under the Endangered Species Act; the administration has requested only $9 million.

Attwater's Prairie Chicken, Texas and Louisiana: The US Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Recovery Program is so underfunded that 200 listed species face extinction in the next five years. Attwater's prairie chicken, the most imperiled bird in North America, is just one example. At one time, six million acres of Texas and Louisiana coastal prairie resonated with more than one million of these birds; today, only 50 birds remain in the world. The Bush administration has requested only $60 million for the recovery program; three times this amount is needed to ensure more species are recovered.

Invasive Species, Great Lakes: It is estimated that invasive species like the zebra mussels, which have invaded the Great Lakes where they wreak havoc with water intake pipes and the ecology of the lakes, cost $137 billion per year. The US Geological Survey is at the scientific forefront of efforts to combat the mussels and other invasive species, but its budgets face a reduction of $55.2 million. Instead of cuts, an increase of $12 million is needed for important research that could save the taxpayer money in the long run.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
The Bush Record: Wildlife & Wildlands