Economic Stimulus Bill Includes Conservation-related Funding

                       

 

On February 17, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  The $787 billion economic stimulus package, which had ballooned over $900 billion at one point during debate in Congress, is intended to create jobs and encourage economic activity in the country.

 

Included in the package are more than $3 billion for agencies and programs that will directly impact natural resource conservation.  The bill moved through Congress on largely party-line votes, with the final conference bill being voted on late on Friday, February 13.

 

A letter to congressional leaders prior to the conference committee encouraged the inclusion of key conservation-related priorities.  The letter, signed by a diverse group of more than 30 organizations including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense, Wildlife Management Institute, and more, stated: “These recommendations will create approximately 180,000 jobs in the areas of engineering and biological fields and require a labor force of specialized equipment operators, construction crews and many other diversified skilled laborers.  In addition, local economic benefits will be realized through increased tourism, hunting and fishing opportunities, and other recreational activities. Strong investments in our system of federal, state and private lands will help to ensure healthy ecosystems, quality fish and wildlife habitat, and public access for future generations.”

 

While some of the programs recommended by the groups were not funded and many of the recommended funding levels were reduced, the conservation provisions within the final spending bill likely will result in a flurry of activity on public lands.

 

Much of the funding is directed towards construction, repair or maintenance or habitat restoration on federal public lands.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is targeted to get $115 million for construction, while the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will receive $180 million and the National Park Service (NPS) will receive $589 million.  Resource and land-management programs also received substantial new funds including $165 million for FWS, $125 million for BLM and $146 million for NPS.  A combined Capital Improvement and Maintenance fund for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was allocated $650 million.  In general, each agency will be using the stimulus funding in these accounts to address deferred maintenance and capital improvements, energy conservation, trail maintenance, watershed improvement, and more.

 

Both the BLM and USFS are slated to get funding for wildland fire management.  The BLM will receive $15 million, whereas the USFS will receive $500 million.  Of the USFS funding, half will be dedicated to hazardous fuel reduction, forest health protection, rehabilitation and hazard mitigation on federal lands, and the other half will be dedicated towards cooperative efforts on state and private lands.  Funded through the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Interior land management agencies also are to receive funding for road construction or improvement—$170 million for the NPS, $60 million for the USFS, and $10 million for the FWS.

 

Wetlands and watersheds will see a substantial influx of new funding.  Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program was allocated $290 million, of which $145 million is to be used for purchasing and restoring floodplain easements.  Included within the watershed program are efforts to improve fish and wildlife habitat and to create or restore wetlands.  The NRCS’ Watershed Rehabilitation program was provided $50 million.  Under the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $230 million for operations and facilities to address a backlog of research, restoration and conservation programs.

 

"Conservation projects like wetlands restoration were the original 'green jobs,'" said Scott Sutherland, director of the Ducks Unlimited Governmental Affairs Office. "These projects can be initiated rapidly and will improve habitat and water quality for years to come—all the while protecting and enhancing thousands of acres of waterfowl and wildlife habitat."

 

Water resources programs received funding through a variety of sources, beyond the funds that are targeted towards land and habitat-based conservation needs. Within the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was allocated $1 billion for water resources conservation. The Army Corps of Engineers general fund will receive a boost of $4.6 billion dollars, and the Corps’ Mississippi River restoration project will get $375 million.

 

Under the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund will be provided $4 billion and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund will get $2 billion.  Not less than 20 percent from each of these funds are intended to be used to address water quality, wastewater treatment, stormwater runoff and water conservation needs.

 

Each of the Department of the Interior and related agencies accounts funded was tasked with utilizing the stimulus money to maximize jobs, and most programs also were requested to allocate funding towards projects that can be fully funded and completed.  The agencies receiving funding under the Interior and Environment provisions will be submitting a spending plan to the Appropriations Committee within 30 days from enactment and detailed project level information within 90 days.

 

--Wildlife Management Institute