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Conservation Leaders Call for $1.3 Billion Annual Investment for States

CONCORD, N.H. — A group of energy, business and conservation leaders met in Washington, D.C., last week and released their recommendations on how to avert the growing endangered species crisis in this country. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources determined that utilizing a portion of revenues from energy and mineral development on federal lands and waters to fund state-based conservation could address conservation needs for thousands of species. An annual investment of $1.3 billion from these development revenues into the currently unfunded Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program would allow state fish and wildlife agencies to proactively manage these species reducing taxpayer costs and the regulatory red tape that comes when species are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The number of species petitioned for listing under the Act has increased by 1,000 percent in less than a decade.

“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.”

“We hope this process will culminate in sustained dedicated federal funding for biodiversity similar to Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funds,” said New Hampshire Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau.

The Blue Ribbon Panel was assembled in 2014 and met three times to produce recommendations (see www.fishwildlife.org/files/BlueRibbonPanel_ShortReport.pdf) and policy options on the most sustainable and equitable model to fund conservation of the full array of fish and wildlife species. The panel was co-chaired by Freudenthal and John L. Morris, noted conservationist and founder of Bass Pro Shops. It includes 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. 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.

Their recommendation would redirect and dedicate $1.3 billion each year from the over $10 billion in revenues from energy development (both renewable and traditional) and mineral development on federal lands and waters.

“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.”

State fish and wildlife agencies have primary responsibility for managing species within their borders, as well as conserving important habitats and providing outdoor recreation opportunities. Traditionally, agencies have been 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 taxpayer dollars. Agencies have not been able to keep pace with the growing challenge as habitat is lost and species decline and hunter and angler participation has declined. States have developed state wildlife action plans identifying 12,000 species in greatest need for conservation efforts. However, limited funding requires prioritization of the species facing the highest risk of endangerment leaving thousands of other species and their habitats hanging in the balance.

Proactive conservation saves taxpayer dollars by addressing species needs early so that costly “emergency room” interventions are avoided. Preventing threatened and endangered species listings helps business by averting project delays and losses from forfeited opportunities due to land use regulations. In addition, investing in conservation is vital to sustaining our natural infrastructure that supports numerous indispensable benefits such as pollination, water purification, erosion control, flood control, recreation, food production and cultural amenities.