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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Is the National Reserve System in Danger?

Posted by | March 9, 2017 | Filed under: News

Screenshot of Portland Press Herald story by Colin Woodard on proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.Today's article by Colin Woodard in the Portland Press Herald has raised some concern about the possible plight of the Wells and Great Bay reserves. We appreciate your support and we promise to keep you informed about this developing story.

The release of the "budget memo" for NOAA from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is an expression of the Trump administration's spending priorities for the agency. We have not seen anything official, so all the information is based on the memo that the Washington Post obtained late last week.

The Post reported:

The proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and "coastal resilience," which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.

What Happens Next?

Sometime within the next week or two, the administration will release its official budget for all federal agencies, which will include funding levels for grants to institutions like ours. The memo from OMB and the proposed President's budget are the first steps in a long process to craft and adopt and eventually approve a federal budget. This involves the House and the Senate as well, as they will have their own versions of spending priorities. It's important to remember: This is all about the next federal fiscal year (FY18), which would not affect the National Estuarine Research Reserves until July 2018.

We know the NERR System, as well as the similarly threatened Sea Grant and Coastal Programs, have strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Many of our NERR colleagues have excellent relations with their elected representatives in both parties. In Maine, we have a great relationship with our Congressional delegation, which has been very supportive of our work.

What would be the ultimate effect of the OMB proposal as presented? It would be dramatic, for sure. But I am confident we will work through this.

Update March 17

The White House released its "budget blueprint" yesterday. While short on specifics, it appears to confirm the dire prospect of defunding the estuarine research reserves.

Excerpt from the President's 2018 Budget Blueprint.

Update May 23

The President's full budget, released today, confirms elimination of funding for NERRS Operations and Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction, an approximate $23 million cut. This elimination, according to the budget, "would allow NOAA to better target remaining resources to core missions and services."

The budget states:

These grant and education programs generally support State, local, and/or industry interests, and these entities may choose to continue some of this work with their own funding. In addition, these grants often are not optimally targeted, in many instances favoring certain species or geographic areas over others or distributing funds by formula rather than directing them to programs and projects with the greatest need or potential benefit.

The NOAA "blue book" further states:

Under this proposal, NOAA will continue to provide national-level system coordination and in-kind support to state governments that choose to continue operating the reserves using state funds.

Remember, Congress will be debating priorities for some time to come. We will continue providing updates and sharing calls to action.

Update July 18

Some good news came out of the House of Representatives appropriations committee last week: The Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill includes $23.5 million for the NERR system, which is the same as FY17 enacted levels.

The next step in the budget process is for the Senate to develop its budget. This could happen any time over the summer, after which the House and Senate will negotiate final funding levels.

The last time the federal government had an approved budget by the beginning of its fiscal year was 2009 and we expect FY18 will begin under a continuing resolution.

Update July 28

Senate subcommittee markups are more generous than in the House. NOAA research is funded at the FY17 level of $478 million, with the reserve system funded at $25 million, or $1.5 million above the FY17 level.

Update March 22, 2018

Congress has passed its FY18 budget and the reserve system received a vote of confidence. Operations were funded at $25 million and the procurement, construction, and acquisition budget totaled $1.9 million. This outcome is a testament to the collective voices of members, volunteers, staff, and other supporters of the Wells Reserve and the other 28 reserves throughout the system. Congress heard a clear message that the research reserves are essential.

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