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How the Trump Administration Is Undermining Nationally Coordinated Conservation Efforts

The administration's latest target: research centers known as Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.
A desert smoke tree is illuminated by half-moon light in the Trilobite Wilderness region of Mojave Trails National Monument near Essex, California.

The California Landscape Conservation Cooperative, which supports projects in places like the Mojave Desert, is now funded by the state.

While President Donald Trump's massive reduction of public lands has garnered public attentionconcern, and criticism, it appears that he has been waging another, arguably more insidious anti-conservation battle. His target: research centers known as Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.

Here's what you need to know about Trump's cuts to LCCs.

What Are LCCs?

LCCs are research centers that address local and national environmental concerns. Each of the country's 22 LCCs is tasked with researching a broad spectrum of issues including climate resiliency, Traditional Ecological Knowledges, and energy security.

Established in 2010 by President Barack Obama, the Landscape Conservation Cooperative Network is the overarching structure that facilitates coordination and collaboration among federal, state, and local governments, along with the tribes and First Nations, non-governmental organizations, universities, and interested public and private organizations that form the LCCs.

What Has Happened to LCCs Under Trump?

As of now, 16 of the 22 LCCs have been eliminated or are on indefinite hiatus since Trump took office.

Officials from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) shared confidential information with the Guardian in a story published this week, which revealed that, of those 22 LCCs, only six are still functioning with the support of external funding sources. These include the California LCC, which is now being run by the state.

Congress has attempted to continue funding LCCs. After Trump initially proposed cuts to LCCs for 2017, non-governmental organizations, state environmental agencies, and tribal groups came together and successfully encouraged Congress to continue funding. Congress agreed to $12.5 million in funding for LCCs.

However, according to the Guardian, at a recent hearing, Betty McCollum, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, stated that the subcommittee has received reports from outside groups about federal cuts to LCCs beginning shortly after Congress reauthorized funding in 2017.

"[The FWS] no longer provides dedicated staff, administrative functions, and funding for the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives," Brian Hires, public affairs specialist at the FWS, writes in an emailed statement, but it will continue to "support efforts to gather data, identify and pursue science tools, and form and engage partnerships to address shared conservation priorities for the 21st century."

While Trump's latest defunding of LCCs has been surprisingly quiet, the move aligns with his agenda that has generally placed environmental protections on the budgetary chopping block.

Do Trump's Cuts Mean LCCs Are Unnecessary? Here's What the Science Says.

In 2015, Congress requested an external, independent review of the efficacy of the LCC network. The National Academy of Sciences released its Review of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives on December 3rd, 2015, which stated, "[T]he LCC Network is unique in that no other federal program is designed to address landscape conservation needs at a national scale, for all natural and cultural resources, in a way that bridges research and management efforts." It concluded that the Department of the Interior was justified in its establishment and continued support for LCCs.

The LCCs have established a number of collaborative initiatives to create regional and national visions for conservation, according to Hires, such as the Southeast Conservation Adaptation StrategyNature's Network, and the Midwest Landscape Initiative.

According to a 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal BioScience, "the LCCs represent the first time any federal government has instituted a wildlife conservation program that promotes connectivity and persistence at the continental scale." The researchers further argue that LCCs have advantages because, in general, their staffing is minimal, typically limited to a coordinator and a science coordinator (a minimalism that Trump should, in theory, support, given his adamant stance on shrinking the federal bureaucracy).

When Baldwin and his team evaluated the success of LCCs, they found that LCCs have an incredibly expansive academic record. They report that LCCs have sponsored hundreds of research and planning projects, engaged in public outreach, and disseminated reports, data, and new methodologies. More than 40 peer-reviewed papers have been published by LCCs.

"If the goal of conservation in the face of climate change has merit, then the LCC program must continue," Baldwin and his team conclude. "No other initiative has the scope or potential to bring together the diverse set of participants required to succeed."