On March 2, at a press conference at the National Press Club, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources released their recommendations on providing dedicated funding for conservation and to increase the relevancy of conservation to the public. The panel determined that dedicating $1.3 billion annually from revenues from energy and mineral development on federal lands and waters to state fish and wildlife agencies through the currently unfunded Wildlife Conservation Restoration program could help address conservation needs for thousands of species. Panel members are presenting the recommendation to members of Congress with the intention of introducing legislation to create the new funding stream.
“A lot is at stake if we don’t act soon. For every species that is thriving in our country, hundreds of species are in decline. These recommendations offer a new funding approach that will help ensure all fish and wildlife are conserved for future generations,” said former Wyoming governor, David Freudenthal, co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel. “We need to start down a new path where we invest proactively in conservation rather than reactively.”
Providing funding for state fish and wildlife agencies to conserve the full array of species that they are responsible for has been a challenge for several decades. State agencies are funded by sportsmen through license fees and excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment and motorboat fuels; most agencies receive very limited funding through general state funds. However, agencies have not been able to keep pace with the growing challenge as habitat is lost and species decline, and as funding levels have dropped with fewer hunters and anglers. Keeping “common species common” has become an even greater challenge, and more species are requiring aggressive management efforts.
States have developed state wildlife action plans identifying 12,000 species in greatest need for conservation efforts. The plans outline how the agencies can work to conserve wildlife and our natural infrastructure that support pollination, water purification, erosion control, flood control, recreation, food production and cultural amenities. Economic analysis by Southwick & Associates determined that states could implement roughly three-quarters of the conservation, management, and education efforts outlined in their wildlife action plans with the annual investment of $1.3 billion.
The Blue Ribbon Panel was assembled in 2014 by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies with the primary goal of “reimagining a 21st century model of funding conservation that bridges the gap between game and nongame species.” The panel was co-chaired by Freudenthal and John L. Morris, noted conservationist and founder of Bass Pro Shops. The rest of the 26-person panel included representatives from the outdoor recreation retail and manufacturing sector, the energy and automotive industries, private landowners, educational institutions, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups and state fish and wildlife agencies.
Panel members met three times during 2015 to discuss the challenges to effectively manage fish and wildlife species at the state level. During their meetings, panelists agreed that an increased investment in fish and wildlife conservation makes fiscal sense and is needed to protect our natural heritage. In addition to the conservation efforts, the funding would allow states to increase outdoor recreational access and education efforts to rebuild connection with nature. After considering a number of different funding options, they all agreed that dedicating revenues from energy and mineral use for conservation purposes is a logical choice.
“Conservation means balancing the sustainability of fish and wildlife resources with the many needs of humans for clean air and water, land, food and fiber, dependable energy, economic development, and recreation. It is our responsibility to lead the way so our state fish and wildlife agencies have the resources they need to conserve species and manage our natural resources – the future of our industry and the outdoor sports we love depend on this investment,” noted Morris. “Redirecting revenues from energy and mineral development to state-based conservation is a simple, logical solution, and it is now up to our leaders in Congress to move this concept forward.”
Blue Ribbon Panel members are actively working with members of Congress to introduce a bill and move it through the legislative process. In addition, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies is hoping to reinvigorate the grassroots efforts of the Teaming with Wildlife Initiative by directing funds towards a new campaign to enact the panel’s recommendations.