Friday, April 1, 2011
Hunters and Anglers Fear Cuts to Conservation Programs Will Threaten Recreation Opportunities
HELENA, Mont.- Several national and Montana sportsmen groups are deeply concerned about proposed funding cuts to conservation and wildlife management programs that they feel threaten hunting and fishing access and opportunity.
Representatives from prominent sportsmen groups held a tele news conference Wednesday to answer reporters' questions and offer their unique perspective on the proposed budget cuts included in HR 1, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on February 19, 2011.
"Finding ways to reduce the massive federal deficit simply must be done. But in doing so, let's make sure to support those federal investments that pay for themselves several times over - and be critical of those that are truly wasteful," commented Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited Inc. "Conservation has always, and continues to, pay for itself. Congress and the administration should approach the budget challenge with facts and analyses, not a meat cleaver."
Some of the programs slated for dramatic cuts or elimination include the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, Farm Bill conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, the Clean Water Act, and more. These programs not only protect hunting and fishing access for sportsmen and women, but they are also foundational to fish and wildlife habitat conservation and stimulate local economies by creating jobs, particularly in rural communities.
"Sportsmen and women depend on having places to go to hunt and fish. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been instrumental in providing these opportunities and with reliable funding in the future could go even further to ensure access to existing public lands, making public lands public," said Ben Lamb of the Montana Wildlife Federation. "However the cut of nearly 90% of the program's funding as proposed in HR 1 will dismantle the program. It is critical to note that LWCF is not taxpayer funded but rather paid for as a conservation offset through a small portion of receipts collected from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters."
Congress returned to session this week and will attempt to negotiate the final budget before the most recent continuing resolution expires on April 8.
Additional quotes from Sportsmen's Organizations
"AFFTA sees these conservation programs as critical economic drivers for our businesses and customers. As small businesses fueling America's $42-billion fishing industry, conservation is critical to the economic activity generated by our industry." Randi Swisher, President, American Fly Fishing Trade Association
"What makes these budget cuts unfair is that many of the fishery and water conservation programs slated for cuts or elimination in H.R.1 are matched with state and local funding providing a significant return on federal dollar investment. In addition, many of these programs are supported by volunteers in communities across our Nation who give their time and expertise to ensure that our fisheries remain healthy and abundant so future generations can enjoy recreational fishing." Gordon Robertson, Vice President, American Sportfishing Association.
"Tens of thousands of species, more than 90 percent of our nation's fish and wildlife that is typically neither hunted nor fished, is put at risk without funding to conserve them on public and private lands. The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program has been an important source of funds to help keep America's common species common and off the endangered species list by proactively conserving wildlife before they become too rare and costly to protect with last-ditch efforts." Mark Humpert, Director of Wildlife Policy and Science, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
"Theodore Roosevelt is rolling over in his grave at the prospects of the dismantling of our conservation framework, under the smokescreen of deficit reduction. This is clearly an end run at sensible fish and wildlife conservation." Jim Martin, Conservation Director, Berkley Conservation Institute.
"Sportsmen and women support wildlife management in the United States and pump nearly $200 billion a year into state and local economies, yet Congress is making wholesale cuts to conservation in a way that jeopardizes our opportunities in the field and the economies and management activities we support." Gaspar Perricone, Co-Director Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance
"Conservation funding by Congress is critical to funding on the ground projects. Many of the conservation budget cuts are in programs that are matched several times over by conservation groups, state and local agencies as well as private landowners." Miles Moretti, President & CEO, Mule Deer Foundation.
A hundred years ago pioneers crossed this country nourishing themselves on the millions of native grouse they encountered everywhere in their travels. Today, many are candidates for the Endangered Species Act and are extremely dependent on the lands administered and helped by these conservation programs. Eliminating or diminishing support for these lands will threaten this American cultural heritage as well as sportsmen's opportunities and the considerable dollars sportsmen bring to the table for conservation." Ralph Rogers, President North American Grouse Partnership
"During a time when Americans are increasingly losing access to traditional places to hunt and fish, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund plays a critical role in securing lands that allow sportsmen to continue to follow our passions. The LWCF helps create more public lands by working with willing sellers of private lands - such as in Montana's Tenderfoot Creek Land Acquisition Project - thereby supporting the conservation of critical fish and wildlife habitat and increasing public access for hunting and fishing. The Tenderfoot Creek area was Identified in the TRCP Montana Sportsmen Value Mapping Project as a top priority 'bread and butter' hunting and fishing area for acquisition by sportsmen throughout Montana." Bill Geer, Climate Change Initiative Manager, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
"Sportsmen and women are willing to shoulder our share of budget cuts, but we will cry foul when faced with disproportionate cuts and ill-conceived legislative riders which should not be on appropriations bills. Congress has a duty to address our fiscal problems in a way that is worthy of the support of all Americans who love the outdoors." Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs, Trout Unlimited
"Invasive species are not waiting for Congress to approve a budget. They continue to multiply and wreak havoc on our lakes, streams and woods. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is restoring our country's largest freshwater lakes and protecting a fishing industry worth 7 billion dollars annually in jobs and tourism. The American people need jobs and want local accessible outdoor opportunities. We know our grandchildren should not be crushed by debt, but they also should not inherit a world where Mother Nature becomes barren because we took a break in stopping the spread of harmful invasive species." Douglas H. Grann, President & CEO, Wildlife Forever
"We all share their desire to reduce our national debt and balance our budget; however, the recent slash and burn approach to reducing the federal budget could not have occurred with careful consideration of which conservation programs work and which do not. Consider this, the cuts to these programs occurred in a portion of the federal budget related to water and land management which amounts to about one half of one percent of the entire federal budget. Their actions could not have taken into account the non-federal funds that are leveraged by these funds or the ecological services that these programs provide for the public. In each case, the return on the investment of federal dollars pays public dividends in excess of that original investment." Steve Williams, President, Wildlife Management Institute
A budget resolution is being negotiated in Congress and some proposals include significant cuts for fiscal year 2011 to several foundational conservation programs that benefit sportsmen and women. Final program decisions could be enacted as early as April 8.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
• House-passed HR 1 cuts $398 million from current levels, a nearly 90% cut and essentially eliminating the program, which is authorized to spend $900 million.
• LWCF generates $4 in economic value for every $1 invested.
• Does not use taxpayer dollars, but rather uses a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling.
• Provides tool for conservation and recreational needs in every state in America, supports land conservation in our National Parks, Forests, Refuges and Bureau of Land Management areas; protects working forests and ranches through easements; partners with state and local entities to provide recreational opportunities for all Americans.
• Provides funding to ensure sportsmen's access to public lands and protection of additional places to hunt and fish.
• Vital to recreational activities that contribute $730 billion annually to the economy; supports 6.5 million jobs and stimulates 8% of all consumer spending
North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grant Program (NAWCA)
• Eliminates funding for the program - $47.6 million cut from FY2010 levels.
• Competitive grant program for the conservation of waterfowl and other wetland-associated migratory birds.
• For over 20 years, grants made available through NAWCA have helped thousands of public-private partnerships protect and improve the health of wetland and wetland-associated landscapes impacting more than 26 million acres through September 2010.
• NAWCA more than triples the legally required 1:1 match-to-grant ratio by partnering with private landowners, States, non-governmental conservation organizations, tribes, Federal agencies, trusts, and corporations. On average, the amount of non-federal matching funds exceeds the requested grant amount by more than 3:1.
State and Tribal Wildlife Grant Program (STWG)
• Eliminates the full $90 million
• Established in 2002, STWG had worked to protect fish and wildlife in their habitat.
• Plans for FY 2011 funds included: restoring and enhancing 30,000 acres of grasslands in Kansas and improving the habitat on Ossabaw Island in Georgia for several bird species.
Agricultural Conservation Programs
Proposed cuts would cap the Wetlands Reserve Programenrollment at 202,218 acres, permanently reducing the program by 47,782 acres.The WRP helps farmers, ranchers and landowners restore and conserve wetlands on their properties while also focusing on improving habitat for waterfowl and fish and wildlife species. More than 1.9 million acres of wetlands are currently enrolled in the WRP.
More than $350 million would be cut from levels authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. EQIP provides technical assistance and payments for landowners to improve land management and farming practices, including fish and wildlife habitat enhancement.
Cuts overall discretionary funding for the USDA Farm Service Agency by more than $190 million diminishing the agency's ability to implement vital Farm Bill conservation programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program.
Cuts overall discretionary funding for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service by $170 million. This will result in less technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and landowners interested in implementing conservation efforts on their land. A lack of adequate technical assistance has been identified as one of the biggest barriers to participation in and effective implementation of these programs.
Clean Water Act riders
• The "Waters of the U.S." rider would stop efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA to partially restore Clean Water Act protection for some wetlands and streams which were curtailed by Supreme Court decisions. Taken together, these decisions and existing agency guidance have removed protections for at least 20 million acres of wetlands, especially prairie potholes and other seasonal wetlands that are essential to waterfowl populations throughout the country.
• HR 1 removes the EPA's ability to veto Army Corps authorized permits for the disposal of dredged and fill material, and to designate certain areas as off limits for disposal of dredge and fill material, under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. Section 404(c) authority has only been used 13 times, but it has saved great rivers such as the South Platte (CO), Ware Creek (VA), and the Big River (RI) from wasteful, fish habitat destroying project proposals.
• Eliminates federal funding for implementation of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay restoration program impacting efforts by landowners, state agencies, and federal agencies to restore water quality and habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to meet the pollution reduction targets.