A question of money and influence

Posted on: April 20, 2016 | Bob Frye | Comments

Blog--Alternative fundingA Pennsylvania squirrel hunter takes aim in the woods. Right now, in this state, such license buyers fund most wildlife conservation.

This is an example of what many sportsmen fear.

Right now, the vast majority of state wildlife agencies across the country are funded primarily by the sale of hunting and trapping licenses. Here, for example, license dollars are the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s single largest source of income. They account for more than 35 percent of the agency’s annual $105 million budget.

It gets no general tax fund money at all.

For years, some have wondered if that should change.

The members of the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania recently said they think so. Spokesman Wes Waldron told Game Commissioners at their recent meeting that the group believes the “time is past due” for the commission to receive supplemental funding.

“The time will come, if it’s not here already, when license fees will not be enough” to cover expenses, he added.

At least one Game Commissioner agrees.

The North American Model of wildlife conservation says wildlife belongs to all of the people. Yet only hunters pay to support it, said commission president Brian Hoover of Delaware County.

He’s not sure that’s sustainable, given that agencies like the commission are expected – more now than ever — to actively manage species besides those hunted and trapped.

“We may get to the point where we have to go elsewhere for funds to manage our non-game species,” Hoover said.

There’s the rub, though.

Can wildlife agencies take public money – ostensibly to manage eagles, songbirds, woodrats and other “non-game” critters – with hunters and trappers remaining the primary, if not only, voice heard on issues concerning game species like deer, bears and turkeys?

And what about things on the fish side? Could taking money to care for salamanders impact trout management and the emphasis on stocking fish?

Some states, like Missouri, get general tax money and there have been no negative results.

But is that how things would work everywhere?

That’s where California comes in.

It’s Department of Fish and Wildlife – known as Fish and “Game” until 2013 – gets almost as much revenue from tax dollars as license sales. That’s probably a necessity; hunters make up less than 1 percent of the state’s population.

But, according to sportsmen in an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times, that’s led to a worst-case scenario in terms of the consequences.

You can read the story here.

In the meantime, a group known as the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources is looking at how to pay for wildlife conservation in the 21st century. The need is greatest when it comes to figuring out how to pay for non-game fish and wildlife, it notes.

“The 20th century model of funding was never designed to meet the 21st century demands of fish and wildlife conservation,” it said.

To deal with what it calls an “impending crisis,” it’s come up with two recommendations.

The first calls on the federal government to allocate $1.3 billion in existing revenue from the development of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program.

The second calls for convening a working group tasked with “examining the impact of societal changes on the relevancy of fish and wildlife conservation” and making recommendations “on how programs and agencies can transform to engage and serve broader constituencies.”

The panel will convene that working group and talk to experts across a variety of fields to find ways to connect an increasingly urban society with the outdoors.

Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.