Hunting and fishing advocates are rallying support to block federal funding cuts they claim unfairly single out conservation programs.
"These guys are happy to cut 0.5 percent of the federal budget, but won't touch billions of dollars in business subsidies," said Ben Lamb of the Montana Wildlife Federation during a conference call Wednesday. "The House took a butcher knife to a lot of these programs rather than using a scalpel."
Leaders of Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Trout Unlimited said the House of Representative's HR1 appropriations bill would hurt jobs as well as wildlife if the programs were cut as proposed. Congress must pass an appropriations bill by April 8, when the current stop-gap spending authority ends.
TRCP's Bill Geer said the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses royalties from federal oil and gas leases for habitat projects, would be cut from $458 million last year to $50 million this year. That could derail projects like a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's effort to buy private land in Meagher County's Tenderfoot Creek that blocks access to public land. The sportsmen's group has provided the bridge loans to buy the land until an LWCF grant can transfer it to the U.S. Forest Service.
"This is a project supported by the county commissioners, the governor, Trout Unlimited, (Montana Department of) Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Audubon Society and 30 local rod-and-gun clubs," Geer said. "Cutting the program leaves people financially at risk, and it leaves hunters and anglers with far less land to access."
Trout Unlimited vice president for government affairs Steve Moyer said legislation to restrict the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Act enforcement powers would leave 20 million acres of wetlands unprotected and cancel numerous wildlife improvement projects. Asked if the cuts were sending a message to environmentalists, he agreed that was possible.
"I think mostly that was a fast-moving quick hit," Moyer said of the program cut choices. "They needed to find $100 billion, and this was the low-hanging fruit. But these clean-water policy changes are to some degree a backlash to the EPA."
Moyer also criticized House members for putting the measures in an appropriations bill without hearings or review by the public or affected congressional committees. Lamb added the split didn't appear to be between Republicans and Democrats as between the incoming freshmen Republicans and their more experienced party members.
"We don't distinguish among political parties - just how people vote on an issue," Lamb said. "I think there's a great awakening of the conservative sporting base. They care about how you vote on the issues that matter most to them."
Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg said he didn't expect Montanans to stop conservation work if they got fewer federal dollars this year, saying "conservation is not a bank fund."
"Many of us warned that the reckless deficit spending of the past few years would have painful consequences - and that it would hurt funding for good programs that help people," Rehberg said in an email. "Yet, over our objections, the money continued to pour out the doors to fund boondoggles like stimulus signs.
"We've sunk so far in the hole that there literally isn't enough money to fund many of the things that we could previously have afforded," he added. "Unfortunately, in many cases, good programs will be impacted like the bad ones. Today, with billions of dollars in maintenance backlogs on our public lands, not to mention the threat from wildfire and insects caused by mismanagement, I think we ought to question whether now is the right time to give the government more land."