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Omnibus Budget Looks Promising for Wildlife Programs

Chris Merkord

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The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge — part of the National Wildlife Refuge System — along the California/Oregon border. The National Wildlife Refuge System has received a four percent budget increase for FY 2014, as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
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President Obama recently signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (H.R. 3547), which contains spending levels for all government agencies for the rest of FY 2014. This is the first time since 2010 that Congress has completed the budget and appropriations process instead of using stop-gap continuing resolutions.

While several wildlife programs are still struggling as a result of budget cuts since 2010, overall programs fared well for FY 2014 compared to funding levels in FY 2013. For example, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was allocated a total of $1.4 billion — a decrease of approximately $32 million from the 2013 enacted level, many of the programs within USFWS saw increases, including the National Wildlife Refuge System (total of $472 million, a four percent increase), the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program (total of $58.7 million, an increase of $580 thousand from last year), and the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund ($34.1 million total, a 1.5 percent increase).

The National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses 150 million acres of land, which provides essential habitat for more than 380 threatened or endangered species. Refuge managers and supporters are encouraged by the budget increase, since this will offset some of the cuts that managers have been forced to make over the last few years. Cuts included a decreased capacity to utilize volunteers, who in 2013 provided more than 1.4 million hours of work on refuge lands. The NWRS budget also allocates $5 million for the expansion of the Everglades Headwaters NWR in Florida. In fact, as part of this expansion process, the refuge will use the novel approach of utilizing conservation easements for land acquisition, as we recently reported.

The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, while getting a budget boost in 2014, is still close to 35 percent below FY 2010 funding levels. Congress created this program in 2000 to provide states with funding to conserve all species of wildlife and to develop plans that conserve at-risk species and prevent their listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Also within the USFWS, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, Multinational Species Conservation Fund, and Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund received greater funding than in FY 2013, at $3.6 million, $9 million, and $50 million respectively.

The USFWS will also receive a $2 million boost to their law enforcement division, bringing the total budget to $64 million.

The Bureau of Land Management received a slight increase of $7 million, bringing its FY 2014 budget up to $1.1 billion. That includes a $15 million allocation to help the Bureau prevent listing of the greater sage grouse under the ESA.

Under the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service received $292.8 million for its Forest and Rangeland Research Program, of which $66.5 million is allocated for forest inventory and analysis. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s budget remained equal to the amount allocated in 2013, at $821.7 million, with $106 million going towards Wildlife Services Operations.

The Omnibus bill also included language to set up a $45 million fund to help stop illegal wildlife trade within the State Department. Illegal wildlife trade in items such as rhino horns and elephant tusks is reported to funnel over $19 billion annually to international crime syndicates.

Sources: Greenwire (January 17,2014), Energy and Environment Daily (January 17, 2014), Thomas.gov (January, 2014), Committee on Appropriations Reform (January, 2014), House Appropriations Committee (January, 2014), National Wildlife Refuge Association (accessed January, 2014), Congressional Record (accessed February, 2014

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