The National Wildlife Refuge Association has posted the latest news on the ongoing budget wars in Congress:
Nearly a quarter of the way through the fiscal year, Congress at last passed a spending bill for the Department of the Interior. The final bill, a compromise between the House and the Senate, included a $6 million cut to the Refuge System’s budget over last year. Surprisingly, the resulting figure was higher than either the House or Senate had previously recommended – an extremely rare occurrence in Washington.
Capitol Hill insiders tell NWRA that Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), the two chairman of the appropriations subcommittees, wanted to help the Refuge System retain its management capability as much as possible without forcing lay-offs. The number they agreed upon for the Operations and Maintenance accounts of the Refuge System for Fiscal Year 2012 is $486 million.
Although this is below previous funding levels, this $486 million mark is still $3 million higher than the Senate’s proposal and a full $31 million more than was recommended in the House. NWRA thanks Chairmen Reed and Simpson for working to protect Refuge System funding as much as possible in a particularly challenging budget climate.
Even with this silver lining, the newly passed budget will have a negative impact on wildlife refuges. The Refuge System operates on a shoestring budget, and no program or department within the Refuge System is equipped with enough of a financial cushion to fully absorb the cuts. While this might not result in immediate lay-offs, an early analysis shows that the FWS is unlikely to fill vacant spots when staff retire or move on to other positions.
The situation looks even worse approaching negotiations for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Because the House and Senate “Super Committee” failed to reach an agreement on how to trim $1.2 trillion from our nation’s spending, an automatic 9% cut across all programs could go into effect for FY 13.
This would have dire consequences for the Refuge System and would:
- Close or partially close up to 55 visitor centers
- Close or eliminate major programs at over 130 national wildlife refuges
- Eliminate over 200 wildlife management jobs, resulting in severe cutbacks of critical habitat management work
- Eliminate over 35 visitor services jobs – positions needed to mobilize the 40,000 volunteers that help the Refuge System welcome the public and administer recreational programs
- Eliminate over 40 law enforcement officers, leaving a force of only about 170 people to carry out the work that the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends should be done by 845 officers.