On Tuesday, June 21 the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, The Nature Conservancy and 400 other organizations from across the United States sent a letter to Vice President Biden and the “Gang of Six” congressional leaders negotiating a budget deal, as well as Congressional Appropriations leaders, urging them to preserve funding for Federal conservation programs.
Federal conservation programs are grouped together in what is known as “Function 300” of the Federal budget. Function 300 is a small, yet important component of the budget; it includes funding for programs that protect and enhance water, soil and wildlife habitat. The Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Transportation, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency all receive funding from Function 300.
Last week the House passed their Appropriations Bill for FY 2012, which reduces program funding in Function 300 by 18 percent. Overall, the House reduced conservation spending on agriculture by $1 billion dollars for FY 2012. You can read more about the House Appropriations Bill and how it will impact agriculture spending in the NSAC blog post from June 17, 2011.
To be sure, the budget deficit and the prospect of the Nation defaulting on debt payments has forced all federal agencies to more willingly consider spending reductions. Yet, conservation programs in Function 300 including those run by the USDA account for only 1.26% of total federal spending (click image to the left to enlarge).
It is discouraging that the House voted on such significant cut backs to conservation spending, given the tremendous success that these programs have had on such a limited budget. In particular, spending on protecting natural resources produces a substantial number of jobs and economic opportunities across the US. As the letter describes,
According to USDA, farm and farm-related employment includes about 24 million jobs. Estimates by the American Forest and Paper Association are that forest management and forest-dependent industries account for approximately 5 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, produce about $175 billion in products annually, and employ nearly 900,000 people.
According to NOAA, commercial fishing supports one million full- and part-time jobs and generates $116 billion in revenue. A study by US Fish and Wildlife Service found that hunting, angling and wildlife-dependent recreation contribute $122 billion annually to our national economy. Much of this economic activity is located in rural areas where there are fewer other options. Natural resources-based products represent a significant proportion of the export sector so essential to our economic health.
What is more, Function 300 programs have only seen a 2% increase in funding since 1980, while total federal spending has increased by over 100% over the same time period.
The signatories hope that Congressional leaders will recognize the importance of protecting the Nation’s natural resources and will spare these programs from being disparately impacted by budget cutting measures in the Senate and in the Vice President’s budget negotiations.