Default crisis was averted. Spending levels were moderately increased. But will any of it go toward conservation?
Shortly after 2:30 a.m. today, the U.S. Senate passed a two-year bipartisan budget agreement that will permit a modest reinvestment in important programs through fiscal year 2017 and lift the debt ceiling through March 2017. An additional $80 billion in government spending will be split evenly among defense and non-defense accounts, which could mean a much-needed increase in funding for conservation, natural resource agencies, and public access projects that benefit sportsmen and women.
“In the last four decades, we’ve seen funding for conservation as a percentage of the federal budget get cut in half,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The increased funding for domestic programs in the new budget deal means more resources could go towards habitat protection, conservation easements, access enhancements, and water quality improvements.”
“It would be an investment in our economy, because quality habitat creates quality hunting and fishing opportunities, and we all know by now that sportsmen and women pour dollars into local businesses in their pursuit of great experiences afield,” says Fosburgh.
Before today’s action, and passage in the House on October 28, the dual threat of a default and a government shutdown was all too real. The outcome of today’s vote creates greater certainty that the government will remain functional—good news for sportsmen who were disproportionately affected by the 16-day government shutdown preceding the passage of the Murray-Ryan bipartisan budget deal in 2013. But, exactly how funding will be appropriated, and what the threat from various legislative riders will be, is left to be determined in the weeks ahead.
Since early this summer, the TRCP and its partners—including the Outdoor Industry Association, The Nature Conservancy, and 30 others—have been urging lawmakers to take up negotiations on a true successor to the Murray-Ryan deal, “the only way Congress is going to be able to make the investments in conservation that American sportsmen deserve,” Fosburgh said in a press release in June. The groups sent a letter to Congress in July.
Keep following the TRCP for news on how this year’s budget will be spent to implement conservation, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and protect America’s heritage of hunting and fishing on public lands.