The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a continuing resolution dramatically defunding conservation programs that have greatly benefited Utah. These cuts are not the kind of "trimming the fat" moves Americans support on the basis of belt-tightening to reduce our federal budget. Rather, gutting these programs represents a wholesale attack on forward-thinking land and wetland conservation efforts.
Of particular concern to Utahns is the fact that one of the leaders in the effort to slash these programs is Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who now chairs the public lands subcommittee in the House. Bishop supported completely eliminating funding in the current year's budget for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and also for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. This despite the fact that both programs have had immense positive impacts on the northern Utah communities he represents.
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) has helped conserve 55,298 acres of important Great Salt Lake wetlands and wildlife habitat in northern Utah. These areas not only provide migratory bird habitat that is critical on an internationally relevant scale, they also provide prime hunting and wildlife-watching destinations and support many jobs in the hunting, boating, and tourism industries.
Since the program's inception, Utah has received $3.6 million in NAWCA funds. This start-up capital from the federal government has stimulated local and private contributions of $10.4 million, a nearly 290 percent leverage of the federal funds.
The second program gutted in the recently passed House Continuing Resolution for fiscal year 2011 is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This grant program has funded more than 450 projects around Utah, including improvements to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, Antelope Island, Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, and Bear Lake State Park. The LWCF has also funded the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and parks and recreation facilities in nearly every northern Utah community including Layton, Bountiful, Brigham City, Willard, Logan, Smithfield, Providence, Randolph, Tooele, Grantsville, Ogden, Roy, Riverdale and Salt Lake City.
Both of these conservation programs provide critical base funding that stimulates private contributions and local community involvement. They truly are investments that reap immediate returns as well as creating community assets that last for generations. Cutting these programs epitomizes the old saying "penny wise and pound foolish."
In addition, LWCF is already authorized to be funded largely from federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas revenues but has been chronically shortchanged in the annual budget process with funding diverted to other purposes.
While the continuing resolution has passed in the House, we hope that cooler minds in the Senate prevail and realize the importance of these conservation programs to Utah.
We can have clean water recreation areas, and improved access and still get our fiscal house in order. It's not too much to ask our leaders in Washington to demonstrate wisdom and come up with solutions that cut the deficit without hurting local economies and our quality of life.
Lynn de Freitas is Executive Director of the FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake. Richard West is President of South Shore Wetlands and Wildlife Management, which consists of the Harrison, Ambassador, Wasatch, Utah, Hill, Brown, North Point and Ruddy duck clubs.