Beginning today, March 1st, the Federal government is set to enact severe budget cuts known as “Sequestration”. The whole idea of the sequester was that it would be so senseless, that Congress would find a way to reduce our deficits and cut spending in thoughtful ways that didn’t gut government programs that are doing wonderful things for the American people.
However, Congress has not come to any bi-partisan decisions and thus, across the board spending cuts will take effect. The cuts are indiscriminate so every budget line in the FWS is cut an equal amount.
The FWS is currently determining exactly what will occur and we will share information as we receive it but here’s what we do know. According to the Department of the Interior, Sequestration will force FWS to:
- Close or eliminate programs at 128 national wildlife refuges;
- Discontinue visitor programs at nearly all refuges;
- Reduce hours of operation for visitor centers, shorten seasons, and possibly close recreational areas when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, and resources;
- Limit the Service’s ability to sustain a full complement of seasonal employees needed for firefighting, law enforcement, and visitor services at the time when they are preparing for the busy summer season.
These impacts alone will have serious impacts to our refuges nationwide. If a refuge depends on seasonal fire crews to reduce fuel loads or conduct seasonal burns, there is a good chance it will not occur. If a refuge depends on seasonal workers, such as biotechs, maintenance crews or environmental education specialists, for help during the summer they will likely not be hired.
In many places, refuges will halt the use of volunteers due to a lack of staff to oversee their work. There is a true chance that the 20% of work done by volunteers on our refuges will be ended or severely curtailed.
This – as bad as it seems – could just be the start. Should Congress also enact further budget cuts for their final FY 2013 budget (as proposed by the House) as well as their FY 2014 budget for next year, the cuts could reach 23% of current funding forcing the FWS to:
- Close, or eliminate major programs at, 256 national wildlife refuges.
- Eliminate approximately 400 wildlife management jobs, resulting in severe cutbacks of critical habitat management work such as invasive species control.
- Eliminate all visitor services jobs, all but ending public access and recreation opportunities, and halting the force of 42,000 volunteers that currently performs 20% of the work done on refuges.
- Eliminate 80 law enforcement officers, leaving a force of only 164 people to carry out the work that should be done by 845 officers.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association agrees that our federal deficits should be dealt with, but this indiscriminate across the board cut unfairly hurts agencies like the U.S. FWS and its National Wildlife Refuge System. Refuges are economic engines in local communities returning $8 in economic activity for every $1 appropriated to run them. These cuts will cripple our communities at a time when we are just emerging from a severe recession.
More information about the sequester and how you can help can be found here.