Action Alert! Support Public Lands Funding

Years of budget cuts have starved land management agencies of the funding they need to care for our public lands and waters. There are several opportunities right now to speak up for public lands funding - learn more and take action.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
August 16, 2021

We say it all the time: funding public lands is a core part of protecting the places we love. Years of underfunding and budget cuts have left agencies without the staff or resources they need to steward our public lands and waters. Without adequate funding, trails don’t get maintained, facilities like restrooms and campgrounds are closed, and the natural environment is degraded. Fortunately, there are several opportunities right now to take action to support public lands funding. 

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The Problem

For decades, Congress has starved federal land management agencies - like the Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management - of the funding they need to care for our public lands and waters. These budget shortfalls have strained agencies, leaving them short-staffed and low on resources. For example, our recent report on Forest Service funding explained that the Forest Service currently has half as many staff as there were in 1992, even as visitation has increased by more than 800,000 visits a year. 

Many of the problems currently facing public lands and waters are the direct result of years of underfunding. Most agencies have lost a huge number of staff and are prevented from hiring needed employees due to staffing caps. Agencies like the Forest Service often do not have enough capacity to accept volunteers from organizations like The Mountaineers because of a lack of coordination capacity. As this summer has shown, land managers are forced to spend increasing amounts on wildfire suppression, leaving no remaining budget to  keep up with routine maintenance like repairing roads or rebuilding bridges. Lack of staff also means that important planning processes are delayed or tabled, which is a roadblock to the bold, visionary action needed to address the climate crisis. 

While the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) provides a critical targeted funding stream to address some of the maintenance backlog, there is an urgent need to make sure the agencies have the staff capacity that they need to take advantage of GAOA funding in the first place. Money to rebuild a bridge doesn’t do much good if there aren’t enough employees to write contracts, do the environmental analyses, and manage the work crews. 

With outdoor recreation in high demand and an urgent need to address climate change, federal land management agencies need increased funding more than ever. As we underscored in our Forest Service funding report, bold investments are needed to protect the places we love and ensure they are sustained for generations to come. 

Current Opportunities to Fund Public Lands

Appropriations

While one-time funding infusions are helpful and needed, the long-term solution is robust annual funding for land management agencies. Every year, Congress goes through the process of determining funding levels for government agencies, including land management agencies. This process is called appropriations. While the appropriations process is complex - and very wonky - it is incredibly important for The Mountaineers and everyone who cares about the outdoors. 

The appropriations process lasts throughout the year, and is supposed to conclude with Congress passing final appropriations bills for each agency (usually due by the end of the fiscal year on September 30). In recent years, Congress has often passed appropriations through a large omnibus bill or through passing a continuing resolution to fund the government at current levels. Throughout the process, there are many opportunities for groups like The Mountaineers - and you! - to speak up for public lands and waters.

How We’re Speaking Up

In April, The Mountaineers, along with our partners at Winter Wildlands Alliance and Outdoor Alliance, delivered a report to the Biden Administration and to Congress asking them for bold investments in the Forest Service. Shortly thereafter, the Biden Administration released a budget proposal that included funding increases for land management agencies, including for programs related to recreation and climate. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s still a long way to go to meet the need. For example, the budget only includes a $56 million increase for outdoor recreation-related programs (out of a total Forest Service budget of $8.4 billion), despite recreation on Forest Service managed lands increasing by 12-25% in 2020 alone. 

We followed our report up with written testimony to a House Appropriations Subcommittee asking for a 50 percent increase in funding for Forest Service core operations like recreation staffing, planning, science, and infrastructure needs. In June, we also delivered similar testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. We’ll continue to advocate for robust funding for public lands and waters as the appropriations process continues. 

Infrastructure and Reconciliation Bills

You may have heard about the “bipartisan infrastructure deal” that recently passed the Senate. This package was painstakingly negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators and includes $1.2 trillion for a wide range of infrastructure priorities. For public lands and waters in particular, it funds climate and clean energy solutions, coastal restoration, and forest restoration and resilience priorities. While many of these investments are one-time funding streams, it’s an important infusion of dollars for long-neglected priorities. 

We’re especially excited about $250 million for the Legacy Roads and Trails program, which will provide funding to help maintain roads and trails on Forest Service lands. This program not only maintains roads to increase access to trails, but it also helps to improve water quality and fish habitat by decommissioning roads that are no longer needed and upgrading fish passage sites. The bill also invests in a wide range of environmental restoration priorities that will improve the health of Puget Sound, make forests more resilient to climate change and wildfires, and improve fish and wildlife habitat. 

Meanwhile, the Senate is also working on a budget reconciliation package that will include larger-scale climate and conservation investments. We’ll be advocating to make sure that this bill tackles climate change, invests in public lands and waters, and includes a Climate Conservation Corps to put people to work stewarding public lands and restoring ecosystems. 

How We’re Speaking Up

We believe that Congress has a historic opportunity to prioritize meaningful climate action in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill. This legislation could cut carbon pollution, advance equitable climate solutions, and make our public lands more resilient to climate change. But negotiations are still ongoing, and it remains to be seen whether this legislation will address the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves. We recently provided Mountaineers an opportunity to take action and tell Congress to take bold action to address the climate crisis to ensure that future generations can enjoy the great outdoors. Hundreds of you answered our call, and it’s not too late to speak up. 

Take Action

With everything going on in Congress, from the appropriations process to infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills, now is a critical time to speak up for public lands funding. The outdoor community has an important role to play to make sure that Congress doesn’t lose sight of the need to invest in our public lands and waters. We’ve had a lot of success in the past, but these successes happened because of advocacy from people who care about the outdoors. As we move forward, Mountaineers need to speak up to make sure land managers have secure, long-term, robust funding increases that allow them to steward and protect public lands. 

We’ve made it easy for you to tell your members of Congress to fund public lands. Take two minutes to send a message, and make sure to personalize it so that offices read your email more closely. 

Take Action

We appreciate working on this issue with our partners at OUTDOOR ALLIANCE

main photo of the mount baker snoqualmie national forest. photo by david bradley.