Nov 20, 2012

Hurricane’s Damage to Refuges Raises Questions About Budget Cuts

The Washington Post published an article Monday raising the issue of how budget cuts will impact the ability of national wildlife refuges to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Thirty-five of the region’s 72 refuges were closed after the storm. Six million people per year — many from the District, Virginia and Maryland — visit the refuges, which cover 535,000 acres, and managers acted to protect visitors from “widow-makers,” damaged trees that crash down after storms, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said.

Sandy struck as the Obama administration and Congress prepared to lock horns over the year-end “fiscal cliff,” which includes plans to cut the Interior Department’s budget for refuges by 10 percent, according to a report being released Monday by the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), a coalition of groups from the National Rifle Association to Defenders of Wildlife.

The cuts would hurt the ability of refuges to respond to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and fires, which cost nearly $700 million between 2005 and last year, the report said.

Fish and Wildlife is not just trying to adapt its refuges to budgets; it’s reviewing a number of plans to adapt them to the changing climate and rising seas.

As the Post goes on to point out, towns like Chincoteague in Virginia — which lost part of their beach and two parking lots — are demanding that the government keep rebuilding the parking lots and restoring the beach each time a major storm comes through. It’s become a major battle in the town, which sees the refuge and national seashore as vital to their economic survival. But Republicans who are elected in the region have no interest in tackling climate change or spending money to prepare refuges for adapting to rising seas.

If refuges are to adapt and recover from such storms, not only does the National Wildlife Refuge System need a reasonable budget, but citizens need to start electing lawmakers who are willing to acknowledge climate change and take seriously its impact on vital ecosystems.

Kicking the can down the road for future generations is not a responsible solution.

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