Breaking down the budget process that will make or break the effort to secure once-in-a-generation investments in habitat
As we’ve shared over the past few weeks, the Senate has passed a once-in-a-generation infrastructure package that would provide significant funding for conservation priorities, including wildlife crossings, national forest road repair and maintenance, drought and climate resilience, clean water, and habitat restoration.
But leading lawmakers aren’t planning to advance this legislation without a budget reconciliation bill that invests in conservation and climate-smart measures at the same time. This means that hunters and anglers need to not only push Congress to carry the decade-defining infrastructure package across the finish line, but also urge decision-makers to include robust funding for conservation in this other crucial bill—which, as it stands, leaves out some essential habitat programs.
So, what is reconciliation?
Reconciliation refers to a special, Senate-driven step in the budget-making process that is typically only possible when the same party controls both Congress and the White House.
When the Senate passes an annual budget resolution, it can include instructions to align—or reconcile—spending priorities with a particular objective. These instructions direct changes in spending, revenues, deficits, or the debt limit by specific amounts to pursue a specific policy agenda. In the past, this process has been used by both parties to lower taxes, adjust social safety net programs, and change health care and education law.
This time around, the intention is to significantly increase funding for conservation priorities, which is why hunters and anglers need to weigh in.
Unfortunately, though conservation funding and priorities still enjoy broad support by both Republicans and Democrats, this is not a bipartisan process. But it’s still important for hunters and anglers to speak up and alert the Senate and House Democrats driving this bill to the full scope of opportunities for fish and wildlife conservation success.
Here are five major priorities we’re still pushing for.
Overall Funding for the Department of the Interior
Early reports indicate that draft reconciliation instructions do not include adequate funding for the Department of the Interior. This is troubling, since the original goal of this process is to commit more funding to respond to critical conservation challenges facing our nation, many of which will be tackled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and Bureau of Reclamation—all agencies that could miss out if Congress doesn’t commit more funding to Interior. Bureau of Land Management lands alone account for nearly half of the nationwide acres experiencing fire or drought, not to mention an overwhelming amount of hunting and fishing opportunities in the western United States.
If Congress is serious about making a historic investment in conservation, lawmakers must ensure that Interior’s topline for funding is increased so that these funds can go to agencies that sportsmen and sportswomen rely on to restore and protect critical public lands and waters.
Wetlands Restoration Funds
Hunters and anglers will benefit from doubling funding for one key program at Interior: the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which has successfully restored nearly 30 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the last 30 years. This program has resulted in billions of dollars being invested in wetlands conservation, and the return on investment has been proven. That’s why we’re encouraging budget negotiators to not only increase funding for Interior, but also to make sure that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives double the annual funding for this signature conservation program.
Private Land Conservation Efforts
We also request that lawmakers double the conservation investments in the Farm Bill through the reconciliation process. Demand for conservation on 13.8 million acres of private land goes unmet each year because of inadequate funding for the Farm Bill’s most popular and effective conservation programs. That means nearly 40 percent of all applications submitted for Farm Bill conservation programs cannot be enrolled. Congress should use this opportunity to double the reach of these programs and ramp up the on-the-ground technical support provided to farmers, ranchers, and forest-owners as they work to boost fish and wildlife habitat on their lands.
Support for Bedrock Conservation Policy
As I mentioned above, a decade-defining infrastructure package is tied to reconciliation, and once this legislation passes, it will kickstart a boom in necessary infrastructure upgrades and innovative new projects. This is a good thing! But with all of this activity comes a need to make sure that habitat will not be impacted by development. This can only be done through thorough and timely reviews directed by our bedrock conservation laws, which make sure that projects in and around public lands and waters don’t cause undue harm to fish and wildlife.
Reconciliation funding for the Department of the Interior currently overlooks the increased investments needed to build capacity for the deluge of new projects. Without the ability to complete these studies in both a timely and thorough manner, this will slow down the construction of new infrastructure projects and could threaten our lands, waters, and wildlife. Lawmakers should support and invest in the agencies that carefully manage fish and wildlife resources in balance with essential infrastructure projects.
Conserving Water in the Colorado River Basin
Finally, Congress has the chance to help build resiliency in the Colorado River Basin in two ways. First, Congress should fund the ecosystem and water supply projects needed to comply with our treaty with Mexico, with whom we share the river. Second—not just for the Basin but across the West—Congress must boost funding for the U.S. Geological Survey so that they can continue to provide information on river flows and snowpack levels to do the modeling and scientific analysis that will help us develop more sustainable water-use strategies. The USGS is a critical, and often underfunded, conservation agency. It’s important that Congress supports their mission so that they can, in turn, inform important water, wildlife, and habitat restoration efforts.
Hunters and anglers, particularly in key House districts, can make an impact by sharing these urgent asks directly with target lawmakers. Click here to use our simple advocacy tool now.