WASHINGTON—Congress passed an appropriations package for fiscal year 2023 today that includes a significant investment in natural climate solutions along with increased spending for critical conservation and research programs that benefit birds and people.
Audubon has long been advocating for the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA), which was folded into the omnibus spending package. The GCSA creates voluntary carbon markets for farmers, foresters, ranchers, and other land stewards. Once signed into law, it will create a new program to self-certify technical assistance providers and third-party verifiers for the agriculture and forestry sectors. It will also address barriers to entry for landowners trying to access voluntary carbon markets and encourages practices guided by science.
“Recognizing the critical role that stewards of the land play in responsible conservation and reducing emissions through natural carbon storage is essential,” said Elizabeth Gray, CEO of the National Audubon Society. “The Growing Climate Solutions Act will provide the support that farmers, ranchers, foresters, and other producers need to ensure that our working lands are part of the solution for a better future for people and wildlife.”
Federal spending was slightly increased for programs focused on coastal and freshwater ecosystem restoration, fisheries management, and migratory bird conservation. This includes restoration initiatives in the Great Lakes, Delaware River Basin, Everglades, and other important ecosystems that benefit birds, other wildlife, and communities. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) programs that manage migratory birds and provide grants for migratory bird conservation saw minor increases, too.
The Department of Energy received $10 million to invest in advancements in testing and verification of technologies that help solar energy projects avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts on wildlife and ecosystems, as well as improved scientific research into avian-solar interactions.
Unfortunately, the package included a harmful policy provision regarding the Greater Sage-Grouse and missed an opportunity to invest in state-level wildlife recovery efforts by failing to include the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). RAWA would have helped state wildlife agencies proactively conserve vulnerable species. And although this year’s spending bill included much needed increases in funding for Greater Sage-Grouse conservation, it once again undercuts science by continuing to prohibit the USFWS from considering the Greater Sage-Grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“We are truly disappointed to see Congress continually put politics before science,” said Sara Brodnax, director of public lands policy, National Audubon Society. “The provision sets a very concerning precedent for future intervention in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission to conserve and protect wildlife and their habitats.”
The spending package also contains portions of the Salton Sea Projects Improvements Act, bipartisan legislation introduced last year that greatly expand the ability of the federal government to participate in projects at California’s beleaguered Salton Sea. Changing water use patterns and a warming climate are hastening the Sea’s evaporation, endangering a critical stopover for migratory birds as well as the health of hundreds of thousands of nearby residents.
“The federal government owns some 40 percent of the land in and around the Salton Sea, but has had its hands tied when it comes to participating in state-run remediation projects,” said Frank Ruiz, director of Audubon California’s Salton Sea Program. “This legislation will significantly expand the ability of the Bureau of Reclamation to partner with the region’s other major landowners — state, local, and Tribal governments — to address the expanding public health and environmental crisis at the Salton Sea.”
Audubon will continue pushing for greater investments and protections in a number of priorities for birds, people, and the places we need as the new Congress begins planning appropriations for the next fiscal year.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.