Chincoteague NWR, © Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

Cut to the Quick: How the Sequester Hurts Wildlife Agencies

While funding for the environment and natural resources is only 1.5 percent of total annual federal spending, since 2010, the federal sequester and other cuts have resulted in an average 19 percent cut for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. This is according a new report by NDD United, a broad coalition working to stop harsh cuts to core federal government operations. NDD’s report, “Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure” [PDF] details the various ways sequestration negatively affects crucial federal programs, including those that support the environment and natural resources. The report shows how recent cuts to discretionary federal funding have hurt people, communities and natural resources, and the group is calling for a full repeal of the sequester and an alternative, more balanced approach to addressing the federal budget deficit.

Lower Suwanee NWR, © USFWS

Wildlife refuges provide important economic support, as well as vital habitat for vulnerable wildlife.

Another recent report, Banking on Nature, found that national wildlife refuges pump more than $2.4 billion into our economy each year, supporting more than 35,000 jobs and contributing an average of $4.87 in economic output for every appropriated federal dollar. Yet a recent memo developed by the Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System for the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service details significant damage from budget cuts and sequestration on our nation’s wildlife refuges from FY 2010 to FY 2013. Our 561 national wildlife refuges span more than 150 million acres and are our nation’s only public lands system where wildlife comes first. There is a refuge in every state and within an hour’s drive of most major American cities.

According to the Refuge Chief’s memo, crucial wildlife and habitat conservation work in many categories has declined dangerously due to the budget cuts. Restoration of wetland acres has plummeted by 77 percent while restoration of forest habitat has declined by 51 percent. Even though more than 2.5 million acres of refuge lands have been overrun by non-native invasive plants, the acreage of invasive plants controlled since FY 2010 has declined by 60 percent. And the number of all-important inventory and monitoring surveys accomplished has dropped by 14 percent – this is a critical program that tracks the size and health of wildlife populations and their habitat.

Even more alarming, the Chief’s memo does not yet include information on the impact of the government shutdown on wildlife refuges or cuts that may be imposed in the coming year or two. These additional cuts could result in the loss of 10 percent of the Refuge System’s workforce leading to even greater reductions in vital wildlife and habitat conservation work.

Our federal agencies and the wildlife managers and scientists that work for them need full funding to do their jobs. The sequester has damaged progress on a range of fronts, and as the NDD report shows, wildlife, environmental and conservation programs are no exception. It’s crucial that our lawmakers reach a budget agreement that repeals the sequester and fully funds this important work next year. Defenders is working to educate decision makers in Congress about the impacts of the sequester on wildlife and habitat and to advocate for its repeal.


Haley McKey, Communications Associate
Mary Beth Beetham, Director of Legislative Affairs