DOI budget request boosts energy, cuts wildlife

By Madilyn Jarman

President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 would eliminate State and Tribal Wildlife grants that have helped fund research on species like wolverines since their creation in 2000.

President Trump’s 2019 executive budget proposal calls for less funding for the Interior Department and emphasizes department spending on energy development, infrastructure improvements and improving public access to federal lands, with fewer dollars directed toward wildlife programs.

The National Wildlife Refuge System and Bureau of Land Management would see substantial decreases, the Land and Water Conservation Fund would be slashed and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Research Units are proposed to be eliminated.

The proposal is the first step of the federal budgeting process for fiscal year 2019 (FY19). Congress is still finalizing FY18 appropriations, so the government is currently operating at 2017 enacted levels.

The budget requests $11.7 billion for the U.S. Department of the Interior, a reduction of 16 percent from 2017 enacted levels, and includes $17.5 million to support Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plans to reorganize the department and establish common departmental regions based on watershed boundaries.

The budget calls for the creation of the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund, which would help pay for repairs and improvements to national parks, wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education schools as part of Trump’s larger national infrastructure initiative. The fund would address the $16 billion in construction and deferred maintenance across DOI agencies, particularly the $11 billion National Park Service backlog.

The fund would be fueled by additional revenue from incremental energy leasing that are not already allocated for other purposes. The FY19 budget projects this could generate up to $18 billion over ten years as DOI works to expand energy development on federal lands and waters in line with executive priorities. If incremental energy leasing receipts did not exceed 2018 Budget projections, no money would be available for the fund.

FY17 Enacted* FY19 Executive Request
US Fish and Wildlife Service
State & Tribal Wildlife Grants 63 M 31 M
              State (Competitive) 6 M eliminated
              Tribal (Competitive) 4 M eliminated
National Wildlife Refuge System 484 M 473M
Ecological Services 240 M 212 M
NAWCA 38 M 34 M
Partners for Fish and Wildlife 52 M 35.8 M
Migratory Bird Management 48 M 46.3 M
Multinational Species Conservation Funds 11 M 6 M
USFWS Total 1.5 B 1.2 B
Bureau of Land Management
Wildlife and Aquatic Habitat Management [Restructured] [169 M] 119 M
Wild Horse & Burro Management 81 M 67 M
BLM Total 1.3 B 1.04 B
Cooperative Research Units 17 M eliminated
Land Resources [149.3 M] 103.2 M
USGS Total 1.08 B 0.86 B
DOI Total 13.5 B 11.7 B

*Continuing resolutions have kept funds near 2017 enacted levels as Congress settles appropriations for FY18.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is reduced to $8 million from $400 million, a 98 percent cut, to focus funds on improving and maintaining existing resources rather than acquiring new lands. The budget assumes full reinstatement of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, which expired in July 2011. The act allows the sale of lands deemed to have low conservation value land in order to buy lands with high conservation value. Eighty percent of the funds generated must be spent in the same state.

The budget requests $1.2 billion for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a $283 million decrease from current levels. The budget includes $211.8 million for Ecological Services to conserve and enhance at-risk organisms and their habitats. Of that amount, $98.8 million would go toward environmental reviews, consultations and permitting requests in line with the executive priority of streamlining the federal permitting process.

The State Wildlife Grants budget is $31.3 million, to be distributed between states and territories based on population and land area. Competitive grants for states, territories and tribes have been eliminated in the request.

To protect migratory birds, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund would receive $3.9 million to provide grants. General Migratory Bird Management efforts would receive $46.3 million, including $7.3 million to monitor waterfowl populations. The emphasis on waterfowl is intended to support the 2.4 million migratory bird hunters that bolster rural economies across the four flyways, but funds for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan is reduced by $847,000. Additionally, the budget reduces the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, which helps purchase lands to protect waterfowl habitat, from $38 million to $34 million.

The National Wildlife Refuge System would receive $473.1 million, with $228.3 million intended for wildlife and habitat management and $71.3 million to go towards visitor services. This is roughly $11 million less than 2017 enacted levels. TWS is part of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, which works to educate legislators and the public to support the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The budget proposes to decrease funding for the BLM by $220 million, to $1.04 billion. Of that, $9.5 million would go toward establishing a competitive leasing program in the 1002 Area of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and increasing permitting activities in the National Petroleum Reserve—Alaska.

The budget allows for $66.7 million toward Wild Horse and Burro Management, a $13.3 million cut. It also removes measures that make it easier for BLM to reduce herds on federal lands. The administration made this same request, which was supported by a federal advisory committee, for FY18.

The budget also suggests a restructuring that would merge the BLM’s riparian, wildlife, fisheries, and threatened and endangered species management programs under a new Wildlife and Aquatic Habitat Management activity. The restructure would also divide the Soil, Water, and Air Management subactivity and move $10 million to the new Aquatic Management subactivity. Accounting for the restructuring, these programs would receive roughly $50 million less than FY17 levels.

The USGS proposed budget is $860 million, $218 million less than current levels. Stated priorities include science supporting energy and mineral independence and security, hazard monitoring and the development of the ground system for the proposed Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite. The budget also proposes merging the Carbon Sequestration, Climate Research and Development and Land Change Science programs into the Land Change Science subactivity.

Cooperative Research Units, which partner with state agencies and universities to facilitate wildlife and fisheries research, are eliminated in the FY19 request. TWS has previously supported for increasing funding for the CRU program because of their role in advancing applied research and continuing education for wildlife professionals.

The Congressional Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will hold hearings in the upcoming months to draft an appropriation bill for FY19. The new fiscal year begins on October 1, 2018.  Congress has not yet finalized every appropriations bill for FY18.

Madilyn Jarman is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Madilyn's articles.