OGDEN -- Top of Utah duck hunters and wetland conservationists say a vote by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to cut $47 million for national wetlands conservation will hurt jobs, recreation and development in Bishop's own district surrounding Great Salt Lake.
"It could cripple wetlands conservation not only in Utah but around the nation," said Craig Garner, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist.
Bishop defended the vote, saying the federal government is too big and the budget needs to be cut back.
"Nobody is opposed to conservation efforts," he said, "but there has been an assumption that only the federal government can start a project or fund a project."
Bishop said people who use the federal wetlands conservation funds to leverage more matching funds should be able to get those matching funds anyway and continue most of the programs.
"The federal government does not have to preserve everything. The state and private sectors do a wonderful job."
Bishop voted two weeks ago on a package of cuts to slice more than $61 billion from the federal budget. The cuts were passed in the House of Representatives as part of a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded until a permanent budget can be passed.
That budget bill is still on hold. A short-term resolution, approved earlier this week to keep the government running until March 18, includes $4 billion in cuts but does not cut the conservation funding.
The conservation cuts, and the rest of the $61 billion already cut by the House, are in a separate bill that must be voted on by the U.S. Senate and signed by the president.
Bishop said nobody knows what cuts will end up in the final bill, or even whether a final bill will be passed.
So even though the cuts are not approved yet, his vote for them bothered Ducks Unlimited, Friends of Great Salt Lake, the Utah Waterfowl Association and the Utah Wetlands Foundation.
Garner said the bill cuts $47 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
Since 1989 the program has delivered $1.08 billion in federal funds across the country, he said.
"It's a federal matching program, so to get $1 from the feds you have to match it with $1 state or private."
The program usually gets multiple matches making the total of matching funds over the years closer to $3.5 billion.
"Nationally, that's a huge pot of money that is pumped back into the local economies," he said.
In Utah, Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit wetlands conservation organization, won eight grants last year under the act that brought in $3.5 million. It raised an additional $10 million in matching funds.
Wetlands are created where the Jordan, Weber and Bear rivers flow into Great Salt Lake, and "we have projects on all of the state waterfowl management areas, including the Farmington and Ogden Bay waterfowl management areas."
The work includes buying land to expand the management areas and install dikes and water control structures to improve them. Local contractors are used for all the work, which benefits both those who want to protect wetlands for wildlife, and duck hunters who use the wetlands for sport.
Garner said the funds also help control the growth of phragmites, an invasive weed that destroys natural habitat and uses huge amounts of water.
"Ducks Unlimited is extremely concerned with the Great Salt Lake just because of its importance to shore birds," he said. "Any loss in habitat is not a good thing for the birds."
Lynn de Freitas, director of Friends of Great Salt Lake, said she doesn't understand why Bishop is voting against something that helps his own district.
"It just seems so obvious that people want to see these programs happen because they translate to positive things," she said.
"So it's so supremely disappointing that one of our own isn't looking out for the benefits of what these programs do for Utah," in terms of job stimulation, quality of life and recreation, "things that come from good solid conservation measures."
Maunsel Pearce, Utah Wetlands Foundation, said the wetlands the funds protect have value beyond just wildlife habitat.
"All of the sewer treatment plants in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties drain into the lake, but they go through the freshwater wetlands first," he said.
"The nutrients that are not processed out by the sewer treatment plants are processed by the wetlands, and if we lost that it would be very expensive to secondarily treat the sewer plants' output."
Bishop said he is hearing from many people who feel their programs cannot be cut, but said something has to give.
"This is $3 million in an effort to reach $100 billion," he said, referring to the GOP target to reduce the $1 trillion deficit in this year's spending plan.
"The really hard issues are in entitlements," he said, referring to Social Security and Medicare. "These (conservation) are the easy stuff. If we do not have the political will to rein in this type of spending, we're never going to get to the harder programs."
Bishop questioned how critical the federal money really is. If Ducks Unlimited could find $10 million in matching funds with federal grants, he said, "there's no reason that $10 million will not continue on, if this is a good program."
Garner said Ducks Unlimited would try to keep private and state funds flowing, but said the federal match is a huge incentive.
"It's a great tool for us to go around and say, 'Hey the federal government is contributing this amount of money, we can use your money to match that.' That's one of our bargaining points."