Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Reviews mixed on Bush funding plan

By Tim Spielman Associate Editor

Washington — While a final 2007 federal budget likely is months
away, conservation groups are, for the most part, happy with how
things are starting out. Others say national parks and refuges, in
some cases, would get short-changed.

The Bush administration’s budget proposal included several
increases for popular programs like the Conservation Reserve
Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program. The budget proposal also
calls for more money for the North American Wetlands Conservation
Fund.

“There are some clear instances where we can see that the
administration listened to the concerns of the conservation
community,” said Terry Riley, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation
Partnership’s vice president of policy, in a TRCP news release.

Several TRCP “working groups” said Bush proposals benefit
programs the groups promote.

For example, the agriculture and wildlife working group, which
deals with Farm Bill conservation programs, reported the proposal
calls for an increase of about $300 million for CRP, a program that
pays landowners to set aside marginal cropland.

Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants
Forever and co-chair of the partnership’s AWWG, called CRP “one of
the most effective wildlife enhancement programs to which the
government has ever committed. By proposing $300 million for CRP,
the administration has sent a much-needed signal of lasting support
for the program.”

Currently, about 620,000 aces in Wisconsin are enrolled in
CRP.

Nomsen said conservation programs did quite well in the
president’s plan, considering the “difficult budget times,” which
include additional funding needs for war and natural disasters.

Ducks Unlimited officials said they were impressed with the Bush
plan for the Wetlands Reserve Program. U.S. Department of
Agriculture secretary Mike Johanns said Bush requested full funding
for WRP, which would allow for enrollment of 250,000 acres in
2007.

“WRP is the key component in meeting the president’s promise to
create, improve, and protect at least 3 million wetland acres over
a five-year period that ends in 2009,” according to DU. “A large
portion of these acres will greatly benefit America’s
waterfowl.”

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in the
year 2005 there were about 900 WRP contracts in the U.S., totaling
about 140,000 acres. Wisconsin had about 3,100 acres in WRP, in
which technical support and financial assistance is offered for
landowners to restore, enhance, and protect wetlands.

The TRCP said under the Bush plan, funding for WRP would
increase by about $150 million for 2007.

The TRCP’s wetlands conservation working group reported the
budget proposal would increase funding for the North American
Wetlands Conservation Fund by about $2.2 million. The fund provides
matching grants to private and public organizations and individuals
to carry out wetlands projects in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

A new initiative to remove dams from river systems in the
country – the Open Rivers Initiative – was funded in the proposal,
but not at levels TRCP officials believed necessary.

“We would like to see the new (initiative), which is designed to
remove obsolete small dams and impassable road culverts, funded at
a more robust level than the $6 million being proposed …,” said
Noreen Clough, of BASS/ESPN Outdoors and co-chair of the TRCP’s
freshwater fisheries working group.

Tim Zink, deputy director of communications for the TRCP, said
interest in the cost-share program would almost certainly
increase.

During its initial offering, the initiative received 69 funding
requests despite a “very short grant registration period” and the
fact that promotion of the initiative was limited.

“In future years, these numbers will rise,” Zink said. “We are
thrilled to see a program with that mission, but at the same time,
we’d like to see double-digit funding.”

Some groups are questioning the administration’s dedication,
however. The National Wildlife Refuge Association is one such
group.

The associations stated in a news release that there are more
than $200 million in unaddressed damages to Gulf Coast refuges.

“The refuge system already suffers from a crippling $3 billion
backlog in top-priority operations and maintenance needs …,” NWRA
president Evan Hirsche said in the release.

According to the NWRA, the president’s 2007 budget request is
about $380 million for operations and maintenance, about $11
million less than last year’s request.

Zink said both the U.S. House and Senate are “actively reviewing
the $2.77 trillion FY07 request,” and ag secretary Mike Johanns was
slated to testify before the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee
last week.

Last year’s budget bill was signed Nov. 10 by President
Bush.

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