Kameran Onley is the Acting Director of U.S. Government Relations.
The federal government shutdown is having a very real impact on the nation’s lands and waters — perhaps most visibly through the closure of the 400-plus national parks. There has been a public outcry about the damage the closure does to our way of life, our communities, our economy and our natural resources. The closure is costing an estimated $30 million a day or more in local communities around the parks, for example.
Has it taken a shutdown to show just how much Americans value the nation’s lands and waters?
We at The Nature Conservancy, however, are not surprised by the response and strong support for nature. Polls have consistently shown American support for our natural resources is widespread, crossing party lines and geography.
Most recently, a new bipartisan poll (pdf) was conducted as the shutdown was imminent, and confirmed that more than seven-in-ten American voters agree that “even with federal budget problems, funding to safeguard land, air, and water should not be cut.”
This includes over two-thirds of Republicans (68 percent), Independents (67 percent) and Democrats (79 percent).
The poll also shows that nearly three-quarters of American voters believe we can protect land and water and have a strong economy at the same time — rejecting the notion that there must be a choice between the environment and the economy.
The sad truth is that the impact of the government shutdown goes deeper than park closures. The critical conservation work we do is dependent on strong federal partnerships. Grants for some work have been placed on hold, we can’t communicate with our partners and we can’t access some critical locations. In short, important conservation work is not happening right now because of the shutdown.
And it’s not just the current shutdown that is worrisome. Federal funding for conservation of natural resources has been declining for years, and now the budget challenges have even led to proposals to completely eliminate funding for some of America’s most successful and effective conservation programs, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). These programs have a positive environmental impact, of course, but they also have a strong economic impact.
In the case of LWCF, the program does not even use taxpayer dollars — it is funded by revenues from offshore oil and gas development. The money is there, it is supposed to go to LWCF, Americans want it to go there, and yet its funds are being diverted elsewhere.
So, what are we doing about it? Today we’re taking more than 100 volunteers to Capitol Hill, even during the shutdown, to make our case. You can help us amplify our voice by telling Congress how much nature means to you.
We will show decision makers on Capitol Hill how a relatively small investment in conservation (just one percent of the federal budget) can bring big returns. We hope support of our nation’s natural resources goes even beyond opening up the parks and that Congress will invest in conservation programs that are essential to protecting our history and our shared outdoor heritage.
With today’s serious federal budget challenges in America, Congress must address many critical issues. As our representatives work on a way forward, we need to make sure they understand that conservation is a part of the solution to improve our nation’s economy, health and well-being.
Conservation is part of an economic sector that also includes outdoor recreation and historic preservation, and that generates $1.7 trillion in economic activity, $211 billion in Federal, State and local tax revenue, and supports 12.8 million American jobs, according to a study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
With all that nature does for us, and all the support for it, why wouldn’t we invest in it?
How has the government shutdown affected you and your ability to enjoy the outdoors? Speak up and Use Your Outside Voice.
Kameran Onley joined The Nature Conservancy in 2010 as the Director of U.S. Marine Policy. She is currently serving as Acting Director of U.S. Government Relations. Kameran has two decades of experience in the environmental industry and federal government, holding leadership roles in the George W. Bush Administration, the Department of the Interior and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
[Image: Yellowstone National Park. Image source: TNC]