Public Lands at Risk from Under Funding

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   May 8, 2002
Contact:   Blake Selzer, 202-223-6722, x250
Mary Beth Beetham, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-682-9400
Krysten Sykes, Friends of the Earth, 202 783-7400, x100
Matt Hollamby, U.S. PIRG, 202 546-9707


Public Lands at Risk from Under Funding

Washington, D.C. - At a press conference today, Sen. 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, 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 Mines: 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.



The report, This Land is Our Land: Saving America’s Natural Heritage, is available as a PDF file, which can be opened with Adobe Acrobat Reader.

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