Cutting Conservation Cannot Fix the Deficit

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Published on July 15th, 2011  |  Discuss This Article  

Mark Tercek

Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. This post was originally published on The Huffington Post.

We at The Nature Conservancy have always worked with lawmakers to find constructive and cooperative solutions to keep natural resources across the country — and around the world — healthy and productive.

But we oppose passage of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill now pending in the House of Representatives.

Conservation spending did not cause the budget deficit and cutting conservation cannot fix the deficit.

We understand this country faces a budget crisis and that all Federal programs, including conservation initiatives, should share a fair proportion of the spending reductions. We understand, as well, that the leadership of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee faced daunting challenges in constructing a bill with very limited resources. And we recognize some positive elements of the bill such as support for fire restoration.

But this bill cuts far too deeply into funding for the kinds of cooperative, results-oriented conservation programs we know to be both popular and effective. It also includes policy language that undermines the ability of government to protect our nation’s air, land and water.

The floods that ripped through the South this spring demonstrate why we should continue to invest in America’s lands and waters for the benefit of our families, communities and economies.

When the Mississippi River threatened to overflow this spring and cause catastrophic damage to local communities in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned to the Atchafalaya Basin, a 1.3 million-acre floodplain forest in Louisiana whose marshes naturally absorb and store flood waters. By opening floodgates along the Mississippi River, the Corps of Engineers was able to divert waters into the basin and release pressure on levees that were ready to burst. Had the federal government not helped protect this land years ago, there would have been no where for those flood waters to go.

Our lands and waters are not luxuries. They provide vital services – shelter, food, clean water and income – essential to the well-being of our nation.

As Theodore Roosevelt said a hundred years ago, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”

This is truer today than ever before.

Our natural resources face growing threats as populations increase and create greater demand for food, fiber, energy and water. Expanding cities are displacing forests and grasslands that sustain water and air quality. Our changing climate — and the droughts and floods it brings — threatens our farmlands, water supplies, fisheries and recreational areas.

These impacts can be managed so long as we invest in conservation of the resources that support our economy and our lives.

In the dark days of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, our country realized the importance of soil and water conservation to the nation’s future. From that crisis were born federal programs to work in partnership with private landowners to ensure the long term productivity of agriculture and forestry. Federal initiatives were launched to set aside and manage public forests, wildlife refuges and parks, and environmental advancements were made to protect the quality of our air and drinking water.

Environmental investment also protects us from natural hazards. Intact floodplains reduce damage from floods. Healthy forests can protect communities from fire while also providing water supplies for our cities.  Oyster reefs and coastal marshes buffer the shore from storm damage. And as we’ve seen in recent months, the millions of dollars needed to manage healthy forests or protect wetlands is minimal compared to the billions needed to rebuild homes, businesses and lives impacted by fires and floods.

Of course achieving conservation is not free, but it is remarkably economical. All the conservation and environmental activities of the Federal government amount to only a little more than 1% of the Federal budget.  In real dollars the total funding for the environment and conservation has been almost flat for 30 years.

Again, conservation spending did not cause the budget deficit and cutting conservation cannot fix the deficit.

Over the last century, in good times and bad, with broad bi-partisan support, this country has invested in the conservation of land and water, productive soils and wildlife habitat for the benefit of the American people. We have done so in the belief that, regardless of the other demands of society, each generation has a responsibility to pass on to the next natural resources that are healthy, clean, productive and beautiful. As Congress continues to debate funding for our nation’s lands and waters, we hope and trust they will recognize this continuing obligation to our children.

(Image: Mark Tercek. Image credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC.)

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Comments: Cutting Conservation Cannot Fix the Deficit

  •  Comment from Dennis Farney

    Dear Mark,

    Frankly, I doubt if you will ever see this, but….

    I have been a member since 1973 and as a journalist, I have written major pieces on the Conservancy for the Wall Street Journal (front page, 1970 or 1971) and the National Geographic.

    But I am taking a sabbatical from further involvement or contributions. I am dismayed at the turn the organization has taken: de-emphasizing land preservation (a unique role and something the Conservancy did better than anyone) in favor of some amorphous mission of (as Peter Kareiva puts it) “nourishing people.” (What, precisely, does that mean?)

    Your web site says it all. It offers eco tips, contests,
    cute photos and multiple appeals for money–but one looks in vain for any NEWS of land preserved. I can only conclude that this is deliberate. In the last magazine this kind of news was buried in a small box, set in small type.

    I didn’t support the Conservancy because of its cute photos. I supported it because, as you still maintain contrary to all current evidence, your mission is “preserving nature, preserving life.”

    Dennis Farney

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