MISSOULA — Many state groups and agencies that handle Endangered Species Act functions for the federal government have been casting worried looks at the endangered status of their funding.
President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget hits corners of several agencies that protect threatened animals like bull trout and grizzly bears. Should those cuts come to pass, that could also endanger lots of jobs in Montana.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Future Fisheries funding have been some of the most critical sources of funding in the Blackfoot, and have been for the last 30 years,” said Ryen Neudecker, who coordinates restoration work in the Blackfoot and Seeley-Swan areas northeast of Missoula for Trout Unlimited.
“We estimate in the last 20 years, there have been 223 jobs created. That’s the restoration economy that’s tied to small communities. We’re hiring local. We’re buying headgates and pipe and fish screens from people right here in the valley.”
The FWS overall budget would be $1.3 billion if approved by Congress — never a certain bet. That’s a $203 million reduction from fiscal 2017. It contains proposals to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling and to enable the national Wildlife Refuge System to recover damages from people who injure or destroy federal resources, according to FWS spokesman Gavin Shire.
“Gutting agencies' budgets doesn’t help anybody,” said Dave Chadwick of the Montana Wildlife Federation Helena. “Even industries that don’t like the EPA — they’re certainly not going to get their permits any faster.”
Trout Unlimited’s projects also dip into a grant program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency for repairing watersheds damaged by old mine and industrial waste. Trump’s budget anticipates a 44 percent cut in those funds, according to state estimates.
“Our TU work cleaning up mines and restoring trout habitat puts money in the hands of contractors to do what’s legitimately shovel-ready work,” Brooks said. “It means improving water quality, restoring trout fisheries and the economies tied to that.”
Near Missoula, Trout Unlimited directed extensive work on Ninemile Creek’s mine-waste deposits and floodplain. Over the last six years, it has spent almost $1 million from EPA grants restoring the creek.
Seen another way, TU used a $30,000 EPA grant to leverage almost $500,000 in matching dollars from other sources to clean up damage from the Lily and Orphan Boy mines along the Little Blackfoot River near Garrison.
State agencies manage much of that money dispersal for the EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We rely pretty heavily on EPA for clean air, clean water and safe drinking water activities,” said Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Kristy Ponozo. “One-third of DEQ’s annual budget is federal grants and funding. And of that, the EPA is the single largest federal contributor.”
That represents about $15 million of DEQ’s $60 million annual budget. The money pays for inspections, compliance permitting, and day-to-day monitoring of hazardous materials for both private and public operations.
Trump’s budget appears to eliminate funding for Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, which create links between agencies, landowners and organizations for large-scale projects like sage grouse recovery and grizzly bear delisting.
“We’ve funded lots of work on transboundary linkages between British Columbia, Montana and Idaho on grizzly activity, where lots of state, federal and international agencies are trying to work together,” said Yvette Converse, coordinator of the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative based in Bozeman. “We fill in with information and pay for the science. The BLM, Forest Service, states, provinces, and Fish and Wildlife Service are all working on different aspects of resource management, and they don’t always know what the other is doing. They don’t know they have common needs. We help them find out where those things are.”
The EPA’s overall budget is set for a 31 percent cut, but much of that falls disproportionately on science and cleanup programs, Brooks said. While many Montanans relate those to long-term efforts like Butte’s Superfund projects, Brooks added there are lots of short-term tools at stake.
“The Yellowstone River has had three major pipeline breaks in the last decade,” Brooks said. “The EPA is the lead federal response agency, and that service is slated for cuts. Montana would not have had the resources to handle those catastrophes. And now the Yellowstone River is getting $12 million in settlements from Exxon (the pipeline’s owner). EPA was important in holding Exxon accountable.”