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Sunday, March 24, 2013
Over the last few weeks, talk about the federal sequestration has been circulating in the news as if the end times are near. In particular, Virginia will lose $3 million of environmental funding and close to $1 million in fish and wildlife protection grants.
On the surface, a number like $3 million does not seem to compare to the much larger cuts Virginia faces — namely a $14 million cut from education funding and a $146 million cut from defense funding. A cut to environmental funding, however, is arguably just as devastating because there will be fewer resources to commit to environmental preservation, which will negatively impact local economies.
Environmental funding cuts force National Park Service workers to take furloughs, which means delayed spring opening times, fewer park hours and reduced maintenance of trails. This is a problem for Virginia, which has 22 national parks and enjoys more than 23 million visitors who, in 2011, brought in $541 million to the state. Additionally, cuts to fish and wildlife protection grants will impact the commonwealth’s economy; recreational fishing alone brought in $816 million, according to a 2006 survey. Cuts to these grants will decrease the bodies of water stocked with fish, which will cause fewer visitors to buy goods in Virginia.
Cutting environmental funding and fish and wildlife protection grants has the potential to impact much more than the $3 million in reduced federal spending in Virginia. It threatens hundreds of millions of environmental tourism dollars and reduces the number of workers committed to maintaining Virginia’s environmental destinations.
It is more important than ever that our state’s leaders, businesses and individuals take action to mitigate the impact the sequester will have on Virginia.
First, the government needs to work proactively to mitigate the damage to the local economy and to local environmental sites. Gov. Bob McDonnell attempted to reduce the impact of the sequestration by issuing Executive Order 60; this measure, however, only focuses on the impact the sequestration will have on military communities. This executive order was a step in the right direction, but it did not go far enough to address the impact the sequestration will have on Virginia’s environment.
The governor could easily correct his misstep by issuing an additional executive order to create a Commission on Environmental Funding to help mitigate the impact funding cuts will have.
The commission could implement a budgeting system like the one used in Texas, which would incentivize park managers to use funds more efficiently. This system is called the “Entrepreneurial Budgeting System,” which sets a “pending limit goal” for park managers. If managers spend less than that goal, they are allowed to carry over the savings into their park’s funds for the next fiscal year. A program like this would preserve current funding and would buy time for communities to find new funding sources.
Secondly, businesses could directly contribute money to Virginia’s environmental funds or even to specific parks through local foundations — a tool that was envisioned in the 1998 “Vision 2020 National Parks Restoration Act,” but that has not been effectively utilized.
In the alternative, companies could commit to making a regular donation or to sponsoring a local park. Governments should recognize the importance of corporate involvement in the community and should incentivize it. Companies also could encourage their workers to contribute to environmental funds by instituting dollar-for-dollar matching programs.
Finally, communities should promote volunteerism to counteract the reduction of staff and hours in parks across the state. Staffing natural sites is not only important for environmental tourism but also promotes a love for environmental destinations in a specific area.
The idea that “labor leads to love” was explored through a recent study of the “Ikea effect.” According to the study, customers who self-assemble furniture bought from Ikea typically value their furniture higher than the sticker price because of their efforts to assemble the product. By increasing the number of volunteers who work for parks in its area, a community can concurrently increase love for the environment while maintaining and preserving local natural sites.
Virginia needs to take control of this changing financial climate by implementing policies like these to mitigate the sequestration’s impact. Until the government, businesses and individuals in Virginia stop pointing fingers and start taking decisive action to contribute the funds and manpower necessary to preserve the environment, the end times might actually be near.
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