Critical conservation programs on the chopping block

Steve PollickIt is no news that our irresponsible, self-absorbed politicians in Washington have made a hash of governance, but perhaps lost in the manufactured uproar over other issues is one that should be near and dear to the hearts of outdoors folks.

That would be funding that protects fish, wildlife and wild and aquatic habitats. Possible losses include more endangered species listings and lost opportunities to experience the outdoors if Congress eliminates backing for conservation grant programs.

So far more than 1,600 organizations – under the banner of the Teaming with Wildlife Coalition and representing tens of millions of birders, hikers, hunters, anglers, boaters, and other conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts – delivered a collective letter to Congress, urging restoration of funding to popular and effective fish and wildlife conservation grant programs.

The letter opposes a slash-and-burn budget proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives, which would zero out funding for the next fiscal year 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. (The same budget, of course, still include billions of dollars for pet programs whose benefactors keep political pockets well lined with campaign money.)

The wildlife and conservation grant 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. Cutting them will lead to more 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."

The wildlife cuts at issue are less than one percent of all discretionary federal spending. These same conservation programs already in the last several fiscal years have taken 25 percent hits from the same lawmakers.

The aforementioned wildlife and conservation programs uniquely leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state, local and private matching funds, according to 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," she said.

Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited, noted that conserved wetlands, for example, among other benefits provide opportunities for hunting, angling and other wildlife-dependent recreation that contributed more than $144.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011.

Proponents of keeping the funding cite a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which 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.

"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."

Well, if you are reading this blog you get the message. If our boneheaded, self-serving lawmakers in Washington fail us, again, remember that come election day next year and make yourself heard in the voting booth. That is the only language they will understand.

You can learn more about Teaming with Wildlife on-line at www.teaming.com

Categories: OhiBlogs, Ohio – Steve Pollick

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