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Omnibus Spending Bill Includes Budget Increase for Refuge System

The House and Senate finally came to agreement this week on an omnibus-spending package that will fund the vast majority of federal government programs until the end of September, the remainder of FY 2015. Overall, the bill retains status quo funding for most of the Refuge Association’s priorities but includes some good news for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The Fish and Wildlife Service budget will see a $12 million increase. The Refuge System gets a slight increase of $2 million in operations and maintenance funding from last year.

Given the realities of tight budgets and Capitol Hill politics these days, we appreciate these increases. We also know that this would not have been possible without the efforts of many Friends and other refuge supporters who have advocated on behalf of their refuges and the entire Refuge System.

That said, we all recognize the funding levels still fall far short of what the Service and our national wildlife refuges need, a shortfall that will require many priority projects to be deferred.

Here’s how the numbers break down for the Refuge Association’s legislative priorities:

  • Overall funding for refuge operations and maintenance will be $474.2 million, a $2 million increase from last year. The Refuge Association recommended $476.4 million, the President’s budget request;
  • Funding for refuges in the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be $47.5 million, although only $25 million is for refuge specific projects. The Refuge Association had recommended $178.3 million for FY 2015. Funded projects include:
    • San Diego National Wildlife Refuge (CA) – $5 million
    • Dakota Tallgrass Prairie Wildlife Management Area (ND/SD) – $3 million
    • Dakota Grassland Conservation Area (ND/SD) – $7 million
    • Rappahannock National Wildlife Refuge (VA) – $2 million
    • Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area (MT) – $2 million
    • Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge & Conservation Area (FL) – $3 million
    • Cache River National Wildlife Refuge (AR) – $1.071 million
    • Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (CT/MA/NH/VT) – $2 million
  • The National Wildlife Refuge Fund, a fund that contributes to the Refuge Revenue Sharing Program which provides funding to local municipalities in lieu of taxes, was funded at $13.228 million, about $6.8 million less than the $20 million we requested;
  • Funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) is set at $34.145 million, about $855,000 less than the $35 million we’d requested;
  • Partners for Fish and Wildlife will receive flat funding at $52 million; the Refuge Association had requested $75 million;
  • State Wildlife Grants also received flat funding at $58.7 million;
  • Funding for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act was set at $3.66 million, slightly less than the $4 million we requested;
  • Funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Funds was set at $9.061 million;
  • Coastal Programs received $13.2 million, our request; and,
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service Construction account received flat funding of $15.7 million for the following refuge projects:
    • Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge (CA) – $313,000
    • Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge (TX) – $300,000
    • Modoc National Wildlife Refuge (CA) – $2 million
    • Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (CO) – $300,000
    • De Soto National Wildlife Refuge (IA) – $793,000
    • Wallkill River & Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuges (NJ) – $632,000

Left out of the bill was a provision to allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to recoup monetary damages from vandalism, pollution or other harm to refuge property. Each year, millions of dollars end up coming out of general operating expenses to repair or replace damaged property; the Refuge Association had pushed for Congress to give the Service the same authority given to the National Park Service for similar challenges. Language in the fine print does ask the Service to resubmit the request next year.

While we have made some gains in recent years in a difficult environment of stiff competition for federal dollars, the reality on the ground is that the National Wildlife Refuge System has seen a $50 million decline in funding since FY 2010, even though we know that every $1 that Congress appropriates for refuges generates $5 in economic returns.

Mischievous Riders

Unfortunately, the omnibus also includes so-called “riders,” or extraneous, non-funding-related provisions in the bill.

One rider in particular, withholds funding from the Fish and Wildlife Service for any actions to make a decision whether to list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act by its September 2015 court-ordered deadline. By withholding funding, Congress is attempting to temporarily delay a listing decision, although the full implications of this funding limitation remain unclear.

This greater sage-grouse is one of the most iconic and imperiled birds in the West.

Decisions on how and whether to protect wildlife under the Endangered Species Act do not belong in a spending bill. But what’s worse, this rider threatens to derail the tireless work happening on the ground by ranchers, sportsmen, conservationists, states and federal agencies to finalize strong conservation plans that protect sage grouse and the western way of life.

The good news is, thanks to the support of refuge Friends groups, we were able to successfully keep a very damaging provision out of the final bill. The Refuge Establishment rider, which would have prohibited the Service from creating new refuges or expanding existing refuges administratively, was stripped due to an outcry from refuge supporters.

More than 90 percent of all refuges have been created administratively by every President since Teddy Roosevelt, yet this rider would have revoked this authority.

When the new Congress convenes in January, we anticipate this and other harmful riders to return as stand-alone bills or again as amendments to appropriations, and we will need your help to ensure we beat them back.

The Refuge Association appreciates the tireless work of thousands of refuge advocates across the U.S. who work daily to save and enhance our country’s precious natural resources.

Stay tuned for the next “chapter.”

Click here for a full copy of the bill text (FWS begins on p. 672): http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CPRT-113HPRT91668/pdf/CPRT-113HPRT91668.pdf

Managers’ Statement (see in particular pages 2, 9-14 and 59-63) http://rules.house.gov/sites/republicans.rules.house.gov/files/113-1/PDF/113-HR83sa-ES-F.pdf

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2014/12/omnibus-spending-bill-includes-budget-increase-for-refuge-system/

2 comments

  1. RCS Optics says:

    Great news- hopefully next year the Fish and Wildlife will be allowed to recoup monetary damages from vandalism.

  2. Ainna says:

    I think it’s pretty inittesreng… Even though you do have a point with getting records that are actually meaningful, I think this is still something that can be looked as “pretty cool” and “unique” in the future. Thanks for posting!

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