Hirono Presses Interior Secretary on Budget Cuts to Critical Land Conservation Funding
Proposed Budget Slashes the Land and Water Conservation Fund by 84 percent
WASHINGTON, D.C. – At today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) questioned U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on the Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts, particularly its devastating 84 percent cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a popular bipartisan program that funds land conservation projects in Hawaii and across the country.
“You said a number of times in response to our questions that this budget is what a balanced budget looks like,” said Senator Hirono during the hearing. “Does this budget balance resource extraction with conservation?”
This line of questioning set the stage to bring up the LWCF, a program that was created over 50 years ago to balance natural resource extraction with conservation of our nation’s land and water resources. In recent years, LWCF has provided critical land acquisition funding for Hawaii’s “Island Forests at Risk” proposal. However, the Trump Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget zeros out all funding for land acquisitions from the LWCF.
“When you were here for confirmation hearings you were a big supporter…of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That fund is supposed to be a conservation program that is funded by oil drilling revenues and yet this fund is cut by 84 percent,” said Senator Hirono. “The reason that I’m particularly interested in the strength of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is that it is a very bipartisan-supported fund. Hawaii has submitted a proposal that obtains funding from the LWCF and our proposal is called “Island Forests at Risk.” It protects water resources, improves ecosystems, etc. So has your commitment to the LWCF changed? Because this fund is cut by 84 percent in the President’s budget, which you support.”
Since her service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Senator Hirono has been working to secure federal support for land acquisitions in Hawaii and has been a strong supporter of federal resources for conservation. For the first time in FY 2016 the Obama Administration’s budget ranked “Island Forests at Risk” high enough for the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire lands that protect native forests and watersheds that are essential to the recovery of threatened and endangered species and cultural resource protection. Additional funding for purchasing these parcels was provided in FY 2017. However, zeroing out funding for land acquisitions in the FY 2018 budget proposal could halt these important conservation efforts.
The Trump Administration’s FY 2018 proposed budget for the Department of the Interior is $11.8 billion, a 12 percent overall cut below funding provided in FY 2017, and the LWCF is not the only conservation program that will take a major hit if the FY 2018 funding levels are approved by Congress. The budget also includes a 13 percent reduction in National Park Service’s budget, a 15 percent reduction in the U.S. Geological Survey’s budget, a 14 percent reduction in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget, and a 22 percent reduction in the Office of Insular Affairs’ budget from FY 2017 levels.
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