In what has become an all too familiar fall ritual, Congress is currently mired in a partisan budget debate, which has the potential to bring the federal government to a standstill. One issue is the debt ceiling, or the total amount of money that the government can borrow to meet its legal obligations. Congress needs to increase the country’s borrowing limit within the next few weeks to avoid a potential default.
Lawmakers are also at odds over the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget. The country is now operating under a continuing resolution (CR), which keeps the government funded at 2021 levels, while also adding in a small supplement amount for natural disaster relief and support for evacuees from Afghanistan. The current CR extends though December 3, 2021.
Monies for executive branch agencies (called discretionary funding) are tied up in the back-and-forth over President’s Biden’s $3.5 trillion domestic spending agenda. This includes items ranging from universal pre-kindergarten to free community college, paid family leave, climate change mitigation supports, and even a rewrite of the tax code. It represents a major expansion of the social safety net, especially for families with young children. Additionally, there is a major infrastructure bill under consideration, which seeks, in part, to address the current and future effects of the climate crisis. Right now, the fates of all these programs and priorities remain in doubt with no final answers likely coming until the final weeks of 2021.
So, with that in mind, October and November promise to be eventful, to say the least. But what does it mean for large landscape conservation? Here are a few observations. Share yours thoughts and predictions in the comment section.
1) President Biden’s proposed budget for the Department of the Interior includes significant increases for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). During the Obama presidency, the USFWS launched an ambitious large landscape program, the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) – see our coverage of the program here. The Trump administration curtailed this important effort. The Biden budget, however, would restore several million dollars in funding to the types of work done by LCCs, especially as it relates to biodiversity, climate adaptation and resiliency, and habitat conservation.
The administration is also asking for an increase of $10.6 million in the Partners for Fish and Wildlife and Coastal programs, for a total of $80.8 million. This program mainly provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners. Since the program’s start in 1987, some 50,000 landowners have worked with the USFWS to complete 60,000 habitat restoration projects on 6 million acres. It is worth noting that private lands are key to the Biden administration’s 30 x 30 focus.
2) National Heritage Areas (NHA), a National Park Service partnership program, face a proposed cut of about $1.67 million. The amount is significant considering that in FY 2021 the NHA’s received just under $24 million. This is especially disappointing given the popularity of the program and the very real opportunity to pass NHA program legislation. NHA’s are one of the initiatives that inspire the 30×30 planning, as all levels of government, private landowners, Indigenous nations, nonprofits, and others work collaboratively to meet ambitious conservation goals that put people and lived-in landscapes at the center of the planning process.
3) In the Bureau of Land Management budget, the administration’s request calls for increases of $10.2 million to BLM’s national monuments and national conservation areas. In 2019, we talked with Kit Muller, who recently retired after a 38-year career with BLM, about the agency’s past, present and future large landscape priorities.
4) The budget documents do not yet reveal in detail how the Administration plans to meet its ambitious goal to protect 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. This summer, the inter-agency America the Beautiful Interagency Working Group convened to begin discussing ideas, but nothing concrete has yet to emerge.