White House proposal cuts funding for DOI, wildlife programs

By Laura Bies

The administration released its Fiscal Year 2020 budget recommendations last week as Congress begins to draft appropriations bills. ©Nicholas A. Tonellli

The president’s recently released Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal would decrease funding for many important wildlife management and conservation programs. Overall spending levels for both the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would go down under the proposal.

The administration’s budget recommendations released March 11 cuts in half the funding for State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, a program thatdirectly supports states, tribes and territories in keeping common species common and preventing wildlife from becoming threatened or endangered. Current funding for this program increased slightly from the previous year to $64.5 million. The administration’s budget would cut the funding to $31.3 million for FY 2020. In its written testimony, TWS recommends funding the State Wildlife Grants Program at $90 million in FY 2020. 

While Congressional appropriators may consider the recommendations as they draft their appropriations bills, they are not required to follow them. As Congress begins to develop the FY 2020 appropriations bills, The Wildlife Society has offered recommendations to the House Interior Appropriations Committee on funding for key programs in the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service. 

The budget proposal also drastically reduces funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, including only $8 million for land acquisition. The president recently signed into law a public lands bill that permanently reauthorization annual funding of up to $900 million for LWCF. 

Funding for both the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation are proposed to remain stable in FY 2020, at $40 million and $3.9 million respectively. 

The president’s budget proposes to eliminate Cooperative Research Units, which conduct actionable fish and wildlife research through partnerships that include the U.S. Geological Survey, state fish and wildlife agencies, host universities and the Wildlife Management Institute. In FY 2019, Congress increased the CRU budget by $1 million, to $18.4 million. TWS recommended funding of at least $24 million for the CRUs in FY 2020, which would allow them to fill more than 30 vacant scientist positions.

The budget for the Bureau of Land Management includes $81.8 million for wildlife habitat management in FY 2020.  It also includes $75.7 million for wild horses and burromanagement, a decrease from FY 2019.

The U.S. Forest Service’s forest and rangeland research program would receive $255 million in the proposal, down from $300 million in FY 2019. The USFS budget also includes $2.4 billion to mitigate wildfire risk, as well as the “fire fix” — so that funding no longer has to be borrowed from non-fire programs when the allocated funding for fire suppression has been exhausted.   The budget includes $2.25 billion for the USFS and the Department of the Interior to draw on for this purpose in FY 2020. 

In a bright spot for wildlife conservation and management activities, the administration’s budget recommended an increase for operations and maintenance of the National Wildlife Refuge System, to $509.5 million, more than the program has ever received.  TWS recommends funding the refuge system at $586 million.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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