Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: Screw the Turtles

Today's Sunday Papers

I noticed today, a syndicated article from The Orlando Sentinel entitled "Feds are in no hurry to protect tortoises." Or, at least that was how it was framed in my conservative local newspaper. The actual article in the Orlando paper is still ominous, "Gopher tortoises are in trouble but won't get federal protection." Both titles lead to the same question, "Why does the Federal Government hate such adorable creatures?"

Who could hate turtles, by God?!? Our government is so broken, they are unwilling to protect turtles. TURTLES!

Yet, the awful truth is buried under the headline.
Fish and Wildlife Service said it can't afford the time or expense. "This determination does mean we believe the species needs to be listed, but we do not have the resources to pursue the listing," said Cynthia Dohner, the agency's Southeast regional director. "We know the gopher tortoise population is in trouble."
The issue is not departmental laziness, as asserted by the headline, but a genuine lack of funds to protect the species. As it stands right now - at this very moment - Fish and Wildlife Service in Florida is underfunded to carry out a core mission. And the situation will get worse before it gets better, as a main reason cited for the decline in the gopher tortoise is poor management of conservation lands, most likely because of limited resources to manage them.

Fish and Wildlife Service is a division of the Department of the Interior, which appears to be a hotbed of "discretionary spending" that is a prime target for spending cuts by the Tea Party and those scared of the Tea Party (i.e. incumbent Republicans and moderate Democrats, or anyone from the Center). The 2010 Budget approved $12 Billion for the DoI, yet for the 2012 budget, the requested proposal was for $12.2 billion, or an increase of less than 2%. This was the starting point of negotiations, so the proposed budget for the Department of the Interior for 2012 is now $9.9 billion. Given that two programs specifically designed to help saved endangered species both had their budgets slashed by 31% for the 2011 Budget compromise, one could assume that further cuts are going to be levied against that $9.9 billion.

Fish and Wildlife's budget already took some hits. In the Department of the Interior's account by account budget, F&W had an enacted budget in 2010 of $1.646 Billion, but the House of Representatives marked $1.192 Billion for FY 2012. That's a budget cut of 27.5% over two years. The number when you factor in inflation is higher.

What's even more absurd when you think about the budget is that the Department of the Interior actually collects revenues. Gate fees at the National Park Service, rents collected by the Bureau of Land Management, mineral extraction fees paid to the Office of Natural Resource Revenues - the DoI collects money, and a lot of this money is used to fund other DoI initiatives. However, with cuts across the board at the Interior, it looks like budget cuts to the department is also going to impact the amount of revenue that the department can collect, thereby furthering the availability of funds to protect endangered species.

Now, look at the debt ceiling debate. Harry Reid, who calls himself a Democrat, proposed a $2.4 TRILLION cut to discretionary spending. He is vague about where these cuts will be, but it's safe to assume that at least a portion of the cuts will be aimed at the Department of the Interior, who is also the largest land owner in Reid's home state of Nevada. This leads me to believe that if we can just screw over the endangered species, we can make America safe for the Job-Creators, who so far have not been able to create jobs because the government is mean to them.

Behold - the face of evil, he who is responsible for our national debt and recession!!

Sadly, I'm not too far off. The article on my lap ends with one person who is okay with not protecting the gopher tortoise. Steve Godley, biologist and representative for the Florida Home Builders Association, sees no reason to rush into saving the gopher tortoise, and least not while there is prime beachfront to develop. "They are not going to blink out overnight. They live to be 60 or 80 or who knows how long." Yes, we can punt this to 2070 at least. Then we can see if we still have a democracy around that has a bit of political will to do the right thing.

Photos from Wikipedia

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