Conservation Organizations Oppose Appropriations Cuts to Conservation

by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

On Tuesday, June 4, more than 25 national conservation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, delivered a letter to House Appropriators opposing the practice of cutting mandatory conservation program funding in annual appropriations bills. Mandatory conservation spending falls under the jurisdiction of the authorizing committees, in this case, the Agriculture Committees. Yet, year after year, recent annual appropriations bills limit conservation spending through cuts known as Changes in Mandatory Program Spending (CHIMPS). The initial FY 2014 Agriculture Appropriations bill released by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee today uses CHIMPS to cut more than $500 million from mandatory conservation.

While we are delighted to report that the House Subcommittee’s bill does not cut funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program in FY 2014, the bill contains deep cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (17 percent), Wetlands Reserve Program (roughly 24 percent), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (43 percent), and Agricultural Management Assistance program (67 percent).

The letter notes that “over the past decade, the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill has been disproportionately targeted for severe cuts in appropriations bills. Since the enactment of the 2002 Farm Bill, appropriations bills have taken over $5 billion from Farm Bill mandatory conservation spending through backdoor ‘changes in mandatory program spending’ (CHIMPS).  In FY 2012 alone, Farm Bill mandatory conservation spending was cut, via “chimping,” by $745.5 million. Nearly 80 percent of all CHIMPS made to Farm Bill programs since 2007 have targeted the conservation programs.”

The groups continue: “We recognize that the Subcommittee is once again faced with an unreasonably low 302(b) sub-allocation for FY 2014. However, the Farm Bill Conservation Title baseline is already being cut by $2.1 billion through the sequester, and is expected to be cut an additional $3.5 billion to $5 billion over ten years in the 2013 Farm Bill.”

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will markup its bill tomorrow morning, and the full House Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up the following week. As the House and Senate consider the FY 2014 funding bill in the weeks ahead, we strongly urge members in both chambers of Congress to reject cuts to mandatory conservation program spending. “Mandatory conservation spending should not be reduced further to offset discretionary funding,” the groups state. “Farmers and ranchers have already given more than their fair share through cuts to these programs.”