A new initiative unveiled in Washington, D.C., Wednesday would dedicate $1.3 billion in funding to help states address the needs for thousands of species in trouble across America.
Patterned after the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 2000, which narrowly failed to clear Congress, the new initiative proposes the reallocation of existing royalties from on- and offshore oil and gas development and mineral extraction to fish and wildlife conservation.
It is being advanced by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources, a think-tank of 26 energy, business and conservation leaders assembled in 2014 by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which serves North America's state and provincial wildlife-management agencies.
This initiative aims to redirect and dedicate $1.3 billion annually from more than $10 billion in revenues from traditional and renewable energy development and mineral development on federal lands and waters.
"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 – the future of our industry and the outdoor sports we love depend on this investment," said panel co-chairman John L. Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops.
"Redirecting revenues from energy and mineral development to state-based conservation is a simple, logical solution, and it is now up to our leaders in Congress to move this concept forward," Morris said.
This emerging enterprise is attractive immediately to the Game Commission, which increasingly is being forced to pare from its wildlife-diversity and other core programs to keep itself solvent and capable of funding game conservation, which, through the sale of hunting licenses, has paid for the majority of the Commonwealth's management of all wildlife since 1913.
"If Pennsylvanians no longer hunted and we couldn't sell hunting licenses, wildlife would fall on incredibly hard times," explained agency Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. "That's why it's so critically important to establish other revenue streams to support the 480 species for which we are responsible.
"The Game Commission cares about all wildlife, but without sufficient funding, we're forced to make management sacrifices that keep us up at night," Hough said. "We need funding like this and a license-fee increase to uphold our legislative mandate to manage the Commonwealth's wild birds and mammals for this and future generations."
The Game Commission said it has worked diligently over the past year to increase focus on the agency's need for a hunting license-fee increase. Its last fee increase occurred in 1999.
That growing need has led to deep cuts in the agency's seasonal staff for nongame species, ranging from bald eagles to northern flying squirrels, and threatens successful implementation of Pennsylvania's Wildlife Action Plan, a blueprint for managing and protecting imperiled species and their habitats.
The problems faced by America's fish and wildlife resources continue to grow. Some are the result of habitat losses, both here and abroad. Others stem from pollution, nutrient-loading, viruses, fungi, invasive species and even human intrusions.
Now, more than ever, managers need to keep a finger on the pulse of the thousands of species for which they are responsible. But with each passing year, the job gets tougher.
Essential wildlife conservation has been a national challenge for some time. In less than a decade, the number of species petitioned for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act has increased by 1,000 percent, according to AFWA.
When species become federally endangered, taxpayers help foot the bill to reverse their deteriorating populations.
Additionally, more than 12,000 species have been identified by states as species in greatest conservation need.
It's hard to see this news as anything but unsettling if you care about wild America and Penn's Woods. That's why this new initiative is so timely and unquestionably vital to all wildlife species in decline.
With legislative support, this initiative could fund proactive management to keep wildlife species from becoming uncommon, in need of expensive emergency treatments.
The initiative intends to establish dedicated funding – eliminating increases in taxpayer costs and regulatory oversight – to help keep troubled species from reaching state and federal endangered species lists.
The need is obvious. But without adequate support from Americans and the legislators who represent them, this latest effort to help this continent's beleaguered diversity species will again fall short of the finish line.
Given the chance to use federal dollars through the PA State Wildlife Grants Program to support Pennsylvania's diversity causes, the Game Commission has stepped up to the plate and accomplished much for wildlife.
Through this federal program, the agency has brokered projects with partners to develop a second Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas to continue monitoring the status of nesting birds; conduct research into the troubles facing barn owls and Allegheny woodrat; and troubleshoot for ways to reverse the tragic consequences of white-nose syndrome on cave bats.
"No one believes we shouldn't manage all wildlife," explained Hough. "I sincerely believe that. But with gridlock in our capitols it seems we currently cannot move wildlife conservation forward without Pennsylvanians pouring some of that same devotion and energy into our cause that they did in the 1960s and '70s, when they rallied for environmental reform.
"In so many ways, the clock is ticking for so many species. It's easy to miss, because so many of us have commitments and pursuits that tend to keep us focused elsewhere. But the shortages wildlife conservation faces here are real. So if you can find the time to get involved, please do. Wildlife will never have too many advocates."
How You Can Help
To get involved, contact your legislator in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and ask them to get behind the initiative, which is hoped to be formally introduced in coming weeks. Click Here to find your U.S. House member. Click Here to find your U.S. Senator.
Tell them funding for America's conservation of imperiled wildlife is inadequate, and this initiative would accomplish much good for nongame wildlife. Remind them proactive wildlife management ultimately saves taxpayer dollars by ensuring species in trouble won't become federally endangered species.
To get involved with the campaign for the Game Commission hunting license-fee increase, simply call or write your state House or Senate representative and ask him or her to support finding a way to get the Game Commission a fee-increase to maintain and advance Pennsylvania's proud conservation heritage. Click Here to find your PA House and Senate member.For more information on wildlife funding needs, visit the Game Commission’s License Fee Increase Proposal webpage.