Economic stimulus via conservation? Why not?

Washington – As long as the federal government is considering a
job-creation “stimulus package” that’s nearing $1 trillion (the
actual latest rumored amount was about $750 billion), why not give
conservation a boost via the package?

Conservation groups pondering that idea have sent to Congress
and the Obama “transition team” a list of suggestions to aid in
economic growth and benefit the outdoors, to the tune of about $8
billion.

The “habitat stimulus package” will, according to a letter
approved by 31 groups, create more than 160,000 jobs – anything
from the engineers needed to formulate a wetland restoration plan,
to youths who might be hired to mount an attack on invasive plant
species.

Copies of the groups’ letter – complete with recommendations –
were sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

“The attached recommendations represent a unique consensus among
a wide range of organizations specifically aimed at
habitat-oriented projects that benefit fish and wildlife while
stimulating local economies, particularly through job creation,”
the letter states.

The stimulus suggestions are wide-ranging, and fall under the
auspices of various federal agencies, including the Department of
the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Army Corps of
Engineers, and others.

“It’s a compilation of recommendations from the various groups
listed,” said Ashlie Strackbein, assistant director of government
relations and external affairs for the National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation. The NFWF, Strackbein said, helped organize and gain
consensus from the groups – said to represent upwards of 5 million
people.

“Green” is a running theme in the groups’ suggestions – “a lot
of green initiatives,” Strackbein said. Many of them have a local
twist, from “Missouri River Recovery,” to “Mississippi River
Restoration,” to “Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration.” The
Everglades, Puget Sound, and Chesapeake Bay also are targeted via
the habitat stimulus package.

“This effort revolves around developing habitat – specifically
recommendations that create jobs within a year,” she said.

The letter deems the groups’ strategy as “significant
opportunities to accelerate habitat restoration on private and
public lands in the United States through existing federal
programs.

“… additional investment in habitat restoration offers the
potential to provide significant job-creation benefits in the areas
of engineering, landscaping, hydrology and other biological fields.
Furthermore, habitat restoration requires a labor force of
specialized equipment operators, construction crews and many other
diversified skilled laborers.”

Depending on the level of the overall stimulus package
(necessitated by rising unemployment and depressed spending in the
nation) that’s approved by the new Congress and President-elect
Obama, the conservation package stands to represent only about 1
percent of the total, Strackbein said. She said Congress hoped to
introduce and, ideally, pass a stimulus bill before the end of the
month.

The conservation jobs could return some temporarily employed to
work, and they could create new job opportunities for some,
Strackbein said. She acknowledges some jobs might not be long-term
in nature (as the federal government could make permanent its
commitment to the large-scale spending endeavor), what’s presented
by the groups isn’t intended as a short-term stimulus.

Further, she said, conservation stimulus spending isn’t meant to
be a replacement for what’s already being spent.

Groups who’ve attached their names to the proposal include
Pheasants Forever, Defenders of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, The
Nature Conservancy, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation
Partnership, and others. Some are more “local” groups like the
Everglades Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

In many cases, the letter states, federal agencies were able to
provide specific job estimates for the programs. If not available a
standard multiplier of 20.3 jobs/$1 million was used for
restoration projects and 15.6 jobs/$1 million was used for
construction-based projects based on economic analysis from the
Economic Policy Institute.

Some items targeted nationally include:

€The North American Wetlands Conservation Act. “Stimulus funding
will help to meet the nationwide demand for the program, which far
exceeds available funding on an annual basis,” the letter says.
Recommendation: $50 million, 1,015 jobs.

€ Refuge operations and maintenance. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service has an operations and maintenance backlog of over $3.5
billion for the National Wildlife Refuge System, according to the
groups. Many refuge projects could begin within three months,
including the planting of trees and the attack on invasive species.
Recommendation: $483 million, 6,821 jobs.

€ National Park Service, operation and maintenance. “The parks
have ready-to-go transportation projects that would produce jobs
and enable visitors to experience parks without damaging the
natural, cultural, historical and archaeological resources inside
the parks,” the letter states. Recommendation: $913 million, 23,000
jobs.

€ Wetlands Reserve Program upland habitat enhancements. “Since
many wetland-dependent species depend on extensive complexes of
wetlands and native prairies, stimulus funding could be targeted at
wetlands enrolled in the WRP that could be enhanced by restoring
adjacent native prairies. Recommendation: $25 million, 507
jobs.

€ Mississippi River Restoration. “More than half of the fish and
wildlife habitat created by the Mississippi River’s backwaters and
side channels could be lost by 2035 if the management of the river
does not improve,” the letter states. “This would lead to a
catastrophic collapse of the nation’s most productive and diverse
inland fishery.” Recommendation: $150 million, 3,045 jobs.

The highest-ticket item on the groups’ list is $1.2 billion for
U.S. Forest Service “hazardous fuel reduction and post-fire
restoration.”

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