President Trump’s Budget and Infrastructure Proposals to Congress:
This month, the administration submitted its fiscal year 2019 budget request to Congress. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is very concerned about the following elements that, if enacted by appropriators in Congress, threaten hunting and fishing opportunities and wildlife habitat at all levels:
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund was targeted for some the most egregious and devastating cuts in President Trump’s budget. A massive 98 percent proposed reduction would eviscerate the entire program while eliminating critical stateside elements like the Forest Legacy Program in their entirety. The LWCF is our country’s most widely supported conservation and public access program with backing by a majority of Democrats and Republicans. It is one of the best vehicles for securing public access for hunting and fishing and creating management efficiencies on public lands. In its 52-year history, the LWCF has improved habitat and recreational opportunities in every state and county in the country. We must ask Congress to reject Trump’s misguided budget proposal and permanently reauthorize the LWCF before it expires again on Sept. 30, 2018. We also must refuse attempts by some legislators to erode the fund by diverting its non-taxpayer-dependent resources into deferred maintenance costs. These backlogs are important to address, but not at the expense of the highly successful LWCF, which already is working well for Americans.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which manages our national forests, was served a 16 percent cut, or $3.7 billion. To add insult to injury, the president failed to address wildfire funding issues that continue to threaten the agency’s ability to improve management of our public lands and secure funding allocated to other important line items. Estimates by the Forest Service predict that wildland fires alone will rob nearly 70 percent of the Forest Service budget by 2021. This doesn’t include the 240 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which faces similar fire funding challenges. Congress has been working on developing a solution to fire funding issues but with multiple proposals and partisan divides, progress has been challenging.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior also was dealt a 16 percent blow, cutting $2.2 billion that compromises its ability to enhance and improve management of our public lands. Interior includes lands managed by the BLM, National Park Service and lands, fish and wildlife species managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Cuts also eliminate the Competitive State and Tribal Grants program, as well as cutting the wildlife grants program itself by half. These grants are critical tools that states depend on to keep fish and wildlife populations healthy and off the threatened and endangered species lists. Funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, a critical program area for migratory waterfowl populations under the Fish and Wildlife Service, also was slashed without cause.
- The Environmental Protection Agency was served a 23 percent cut, eroding its ability to govern the Clean Water Act, which ensures we all have safe drinking water in addition to affording critical protections for fish and wildlife habitat in places like wetlands and headwaters. The EPA is also the agency responsible for the fate of Bristol Bay, one of the world’s most important salmon fisheries and a priority landscape for BHA and our Alaska Chapter. Find out how you can help us make a difference HERE.
The president’s infrastructure plan was released in conjunction with the budget proposal highlighted above. While infrastructure remains an important policy priority and we’re heartened to see funding allocations for innovative infrastructure programs, we’re concerned that natural infrastructure projects weren’t included in the administration’s priorities. Additionally, there is vague language that could be interpreted to advance foolhardy notions of public lands sales and disposal from special interests on the far fringes of popular opinion.
On the disposal side, BHA is concerned about the president’s request to transfer the Tennessee Valley Authority to private entities and divest it from federal ownership. TVA is the nation's largest public power provider and administers agricultural and industrial development across seven states in the Southeast – development that provides flood control, restores degraded natural resources and provides public access on lands and waters for hunting, fishing and other recreation. This includes hundreds of miles of rivers and tributaries for flood control and recreational use, more than 11,000 miles of public shoreline, 480,000 acres of recreational lakes, and 293,000 acres of public lands (more than 122,000 acres are dedicated to wildlife preservation and habitat). The efficiencies TVA has gained over the years have made it financially independent of taxpayer support and created a unique system of public lands and waters. TVA is also one of the largest employers in the region, at more than 10,000 personnel.
With agency budgets being cut and programs like the LWCF effectively eliminated by President Trump, management of our public lands is not only being plunged into a state of anemia, the $200 billion price tag for the infrastructure plan seems to come at the expense of our heritage while possibly opening the door to the disposal of our public lands and waters. BHA will be working with all of our members of Congress to ensure that this doesn’t happen and that our elected leaders advance infrastructure principles that focus more on natural solutions that benefit fish and wildlife. Creating wildlife friendly passage on our nation’s system of roads and restoring wetlands is not only good for critters, it enhances public safety and provides buffers for otherwise catastrophic flooding.
Secretarial Order on Big Game Habitat and Migratory Corridors:
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently announced Secretarial Order 3362 to direct all relevant bureaus under the Department of the Interior to partner with state fish and wildlife management agencies in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming in order to enhance and improve the quality of big-game winter range and migration corridor habitat on federal lands. Species identified in the order include Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and pronghorn. The order emphasizes habitat improvements and migratory corridor connectivity in order to create sustainable big game populations that will enhance hunting opportunities, in addition to benefiting other species and bolstering Western economies.
While habitat and migratory corridors for big game species are the primary objectives of this order, sage grouse are also mentioned as an important species with regard to projects that will enhance and restore habitat. BHA commends Secretary Zinke for this forward-thinking order that prioritizes migratory corridors and winter range habitat. We also, however, will hold the secretary accountable to his promises to guide all management decisions by science. With a declared plan for “energy dominance” – as well as administrative efforts to roll back historic conservation plans in sagebrush country to enhance greater sage grouse populations in addition to all the big game species mentioned – Secretary Zinke should apply the spirit of this order across priority habitats. BHA asks the secretary to create rigorous standards that balance development needs so that resource extraction doesn’t come at the expense of public access, fish and wildlife habitat and quality hunting and fishing opportunities.