Conservation Update: President Obama's Budget Needlessly Hits Vital Programs

A first look at the impacts President Obama's budget could have on fish, wildlife and sportsmen leaves me with this impression: It's not as bad as it could have been, but much worse than it should be.

Here's a quick evaluation from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership on some of our key programs:

-Environmental Quality Incentive Programs (EQIP) 2013: $1.403 billion, a slight increase from 2012 enacted, but a slight cut from 2012 request. This funding helps property owners management in ways that benefit fish and wildlife habitat.

-Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) -- Capped at 30 million acres in 2013, a cut of 2 million acres, estimated to save Uncle Sam $977 million over ten years.

-Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), which provides financial assistance to non-federal landowners and Tribes to develop, restore, and enhance fish and wildlife habitats: $73 million, an increase of $23 million over FY12 enacted.

-Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), a competitive grants program only available to states and tribal governments that encourages private landowners to make that land available for access by the public for wildlife-dependent recreation, including hunting or fishing: $5 million, an increase of $5 million over FY12 when the program was not funded.

-Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), a voluntary program to help landowners and land managers protect, restore and enhance rangeland, pastureland, shrubland and other grasslands: No funding.

-Wetlands Reserve Program, (WRP), voluntary program helping landowners restore and protect wetlands and provides cost-share payments for wetlands rehabilitation practices: No funding.

So, given those cuts -- especially the zero-funding for GRP and WRP -- how did I get "not as bad as it could be?"

Well, this is an election year in which cutting the nation's deficit has been made the No. 1 issue by the president's challengers, and with poll results showing the public generally agrees, he has no choice. And it's not surprising the knife is cutting ducks and bunnies rather than veterans and grandmothers (yet).

Also, these cuts are not as deep or as sweeping as those being called for much of last year by the GOP House majority. So, one could argue the prez isn't caving completely.

Now, let's get to the "worse than it should be" part of the evaluation.

It comes down to this: There are sound economic and moral arguments against these cuts.

Studies have shown conservation programs like these actually help reduce the nation's debt problems by creating jobs and helping to support outdoors industries which contribute more than $9 billion to the economy each year. So if the goal is to reduce the debt, it makes no sense to trim or eliminate programs that adds to the bottom line, not subtract from it. In fact, you could argue it's counter-productive.

The moral issue is just as compelling, at least to me.

During this election season you've heard many of the budget hawks say they're swinging the axe because it would be immoral for them to kick our debts down the road to our children and grandchildren. I'm saying it would be just as immoral to bequeath our children a country whose fish, wildlife, public land, air and water has been shredded.

Zeroing-out WRP and GRP are especially egregious. If this passes, it means the programs would not be reauthorized, ultimately leading to their demise when current contracts expire.

All of which means sportsmen are now in a very scary place for some of these programs. The administration has been far friendlier to our issues over the last 18 months than its opposition. So, if this is the best we'll get from our friends, we know what the other side will be serving up.

Get those phone calls and emails ready.