Outdoor Enthusiasts Insist Congress Restore Conservation Funding

More than 1,600 organizations representing tens of millions of birders, hikers, hunters, anglers, boaters and other conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts delivered a collective letter to congressional appropriators Sept. 17 urging them to restore funding to popular and effective fish and wildlife conservation grant programs.

The letter is in response to efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives to zero out funding for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, Forest Legacy Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund next fiscal year. The Teaming With Wildlife Coalition coordinated the letter to Congressional appropriators on behalf of the 800+ signatory groups and coalitions that represent more than 1,600 organizations, including Outdoor Industry Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Youth Hunting Association and dozens of retailers.

These grant-based programs have restored and protected millions of acres of habitat and supported thousands of projects to combat threats to fish and wildlife survival, including invasive species. By eliminating program funding, appropriators would significantly impact collaborative, on-the-ground conservation, resulting in new federal endangered species listings, fewer restored wetlands, more imperiled migratory birds, less protection for forests and other key habitats and diminished outdoor recreation opportunities.

“It’s a matter of invest now or U.S. taxpayers will pay even more later,” said Dan Forster, president of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies and director of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. “It can cost millions of dollars to recover one single endangered species. The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program is the only federal program providing funding to states and their partners to conserve the more than 12,000 fish and wildlife species that are at risk of landing on the endangered species list.”

Investments in natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation total less than one percent of all discretionary federal spending. However, over the last several fiscal years, the conservation programs that appropriators propose to defund have already been reduced by more than 25 percent.

“The conservation grant programs we’re concerned about represent an even smaller percentage of this total spending, but they are unique in that they leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state, local and private matching funds,” said Naomi Edelson, director of State and Federal Wildlife Partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation. “The multiplier effect of the conservation grants affects the scope of work we can accomplish to ensure cleaner and healthier environments that are good for wildlife and for people.”

Some of the nation’s most imperiled habitats, such as wetlands, are being restored through the vulnerable conservation grant programs.

“Wetlands protected and conserved by these programs do so much more than provide waterfowl and wildlife habitat. They lessen the effects of floods and hurricanes, prevent soil erosion and improve water quality,” said Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited. “Conserved wetlands also provide opportunities for hunting, angling and other wildlife-dependent recreation that contributed more than $144.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011. Programs that provide such major returns on investment for our citizens and government should not be abandoned.”

A 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more than 90 million U.S. residents age16 years and older participate in wildlife-related recreational activities annually. Conservation grant programs also deliver some of the most direct benefits to the more than 70 million Americans who spend approximately $55 billion each year on watching and feeding birds.

“Bird watching is a huge economic generator for the country, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund fuels that activity,” said George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy. “It’s a great investment for the American taxpayer because many of the bird species that people want to see are conserved by the program.”

A recent, national survey of voters conducted by The Nature Conservancy confirms that conservation of public lands and waters is overwhelmingly popular with the American people.

“A bipartisan, nationwide poll found that four-in-five American voters believe that conservation of natural resources is patriotic and a value that they share, and 87 percent agree that our state and national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of the quality of life in their state,” said Kameran Onley, acting director of U.S. government relations at The Nature Conservancy. “Furthermore, three-quarters say that even with federal budget problems, funding for conservation should not be cut.”

“These popular conservation programs provide public lands to hunt and hike, habitat for the birds many of us enjoy, working forests instead of housing tracts, and rare funding for managing non-game wildlife,” said Mike Leahy, conservation director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “With more people and less nature in our lives, Congress should be continuing conservation programs, not pilfering scarce conservation dollars.”