Trump administration's "skinny budget" would starve parks and conservation programs

President Donald Trump

As part of a historically low domestic spending proposal, President Trump wants to cut funding for a host of environmental agencies and programs

Gage Skidmore, flickr

President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 would commit beleaguered land agencies and conservation programs to the equivalent of a starvation diet.

After years of neglect by the federal government, our country’s conservation programs are in serious need of restoration. But the latest news out of the Trump White House suggests they'll get just the opposite. 

As part of a historically low domestic spending proposal, President Trump wants to cut funding for the Department of the Interior by about 12 percent, selling out public lands and severely undermining the booming outdoor recreation economy. Additionally, Trump's budget would slash the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 percent, eliminating thousands of jobs from that agency, and effectively end various programs committed to measuring climate change and ramping up renewable energy development.  

“It’s fitting for President Trump to release his budget in March, because this is simply madness,” said Cam Witten, Government Relations and Budget Specialist at The Wilderness Society. “This budget would decimate the very foundation of what makes America great: our parks, public lands, and historic leadership on conservation.” 

Funding for conservation—which includes national parks, forests and wildlife refuges—already makes up barely 1 percent of the federal budget, despite the important role these places play in supporting local communities. Trump's "skinny budget"--so called because it is intended only as a basic outline of spending priorities—lives up to its nickname by further hollowing out an already malnourished suite of programs. 

Among lowlights in Trump's proposed budget: 

  • 12% budget cut for the Department of the Interior, which already operates under a roughly $12 billion maintenance backlog on National Park Service land. The cuts include at least $120 million in cuts to the crucial and popular Land and Water Conservation Fund. In contrast, Trump's budget calls for the agency to spend more on energy extraction

  • 31% budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency, trashing dozens of pollution reduction, energy efficiency and environmental cleanup programs. As one long-time EPA employee told The Washington Post, the spending proposals are "akin to taking away the agency’s bread and water.” 

  • Unspecified cuts to the U.S. Forest Service, which is already chronically strained by the need to divert funds from various important programs in order to fight wildfires. The agency has also had its budget for roads and trails programs cut repeatedly in recent years. 

  • $100 million in cuts to NASA's earth science programs, part of a widely reported push to cut back on the agency's climate change research and monitoring. 

  • 17% budget cut for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), doing severe damage to U.S. weather forecasting and climate study capacity. When likely proposed cuts to NOAA were reported earlier this month, one expert likened the Trump administration's budget approach to "giving a 15-year-old kid a whole bunch of coffee, and then giving them a machete and asking them to do surgery.” 

  • $900 million in cuts to the Department of Energy's science office, as well as entirely eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, which invests in research and development of new energy technologies. 

These cuts are in line with broader trends that have seen environmental spending cut almost across the board, to the detriment of public lands conservation, national park maintenance, clean water, access to outdoor recreation and more.  

For example, since 1994, the Forest Service has lost about 30 percent of its workforce, and chronically strained budgets only make matters worse. One of the biggest stressors: As wildfire seasons become longer and more severe, the Forest Service has seen the money it spends on fire management skyrocket--from 16 percent of the agency’s budget two decades ago to around 50 percent for the past few years. To fight the fires, the Forest Service has continually been forced to divert funds from other popular and effective programs, including those that are specifically intended to reduce the cost and severity of future wildfires. It is not yet clear what cuts the Trump administration is proposing to the agency. 

Throughout the federal budget process, The Wilderness Society will actively work with lawmakers, urging them to decisively reject the reckless Trump starvation diet and restore funding for conservation programs in need. 

Stay tuned for our full analysis of budget priorities and what we will do to stand up for conservation.