Blue Ribbon Panel calls for annual $1.3 billion investment for conservation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A national panel of business, conservation and energy leaders recommended $1.3 billion sourced from federal lands revenue be invested in state programs aimed at conserving thousands of species of fish and wildlife, according to an announcement by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) on March 2.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources urged federal officials to redistribute $1.3 billion of revenues derived from energy and mineral development on U.S.-owned land to state-level fish and wildlife agencies, allowing them to pay for conservation programs.

“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,” AFWA staff said in a statement about the blue panel’s recommendation.

Ramping up federal funding of state conservation programs would prevent agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife falling behind in efforts to protect classes of endangered species, according to AFWA and the blue ribbon panel.

“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,” the AFWA statement said. “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.”

At least 12,000 species were identified by state wildlife action plans as being at risk of endangered, according to AFWA. The association added being proactive about conservation during the early stages of the endangered species process could help save taxpayer dollars down the line.

“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,” AFWA staff stated. “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.

One of the blue ribbon panelists echoed similar sentiments.

“A lot is at stake if we don’t act soon,” said former Wyoming governor and Blue Ribbon Panel co-chair David Freudenthal. “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. We need to start down a new path where we invest proactively in conservation rather than reactively.”

The Blue Ribbon Panel, which was assembled in 2014, made its annual funding recommendation based upon more than $10 billion in revenues each year from energy 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,” said Bass Pro Shops founder and conservationist John Morris. “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.”

Representatives from state fish and wildlife agencies, sportsmen’s groups, conservation organizations, outdoor recreation retailers and manufacturers, energy and automotive industries, and educational institutions joined private landowners in making up the 28-member panel.

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