Blue Ribbon Panel recommends $1.3 billion for state plans

By Joshua Rapp Learn

Spokesmen from the Blue Ribbon Panel speaking on March 2 at the release of recommendations. From Left, David Freudenthal, Dave Chanda, John Morris, Collin O’Mara, and Jeff Crane. © Joshua Learn

Former state politicians, environmental group representatives, academic researchers, business executives from outdoor equipment companies and the oil industry, and others have come together in a rare showing of solidarity to recommend the federal government allocate $1.3 billion a year to fund state conservation plans.

“We need to get more species off the [federal endangered species] list and stop it from happening,” said Dave Chanda, director of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) at the official release of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations at the Washington, D.C. Press Club.

The Blue Ribbon Panel, assembled by AFWA in Sept. 2014, is a diverse group of 28 business and conservation leaders who came together to look for ways of new funding mechanism to support State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAP) that detail, among other things, ways to protect hundreds of species of conservation need across the country. The Panel is chaired by John Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, and David Freudenthal, the former governor of Wyoming and also includes the executive vice president of Shell Americas, a representative from Toyota Motor Engineering, business owners, state agency leaders, and representatives from conservation, fishing and hunting groups.

The $1.3 billion funding the Blue Ribbon Panel is recommending would go directly to the states and cover two-thirds of the money needed by fish and wildlife agencies to act on the plans laid out in their 2015 SWAPs. Each state would receive between $13 million and $65 million, with the total amount determined by the state’s size and population density.

Morris cited the high cost to federal government agencies of protecting animals that have been listed by the Endangered Species Act, adding that funding the SWAPs will be a positive future investment.

“You need to do this very, very early so that you don’t get near a potential listing,” Freudenthal said at the press conference. He added that litigation and action becomes costly to government agencies even when species get close to be listed, such as happened recently with the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus).

Rather than create a new tax, the Panel recommends that funding for the SWAPs come from existing revenue the U.S. Department of Treasury receives from the development of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters. Half of this would come from offshore resources and half from land resources, according to Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation.

“It would take stand-alone legislation to do that,” he said of the annual $1.3 billion investment. He added that this would represent around 10 percent of the annual revenue from these funds, which runs around $12 billion. The funds are currently not allocated, and flow directly in the Treasury Department’s funds. Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services allocated funds to state through the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, which only receives around $40-60 million a year for nongame species across the United States from the federal government.

Freudenthal says that it makes sense that fish and wildlife resources be conserved for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.

“It’s certainly not being supported adequately by the current funding sources,” he said.

The release of the Panel’s recommendations were timed to coincide with the annual drive by Teaming With Wildlife — a coalition of fish and wildlife representatives from across the country who come to Washington, D.C. every year to lobby Congressmen on funding state wildlife programs in general.

“The Wildlife Society is excited to be a part of this effort to provide sustained funding that will enable wildlife professionals to implement science-based conservation and management,” said Keith Norris, TWS Director of Government Affairs and Partnerships.

Cynthia Perrine, the representative of the Western Section of The Wildlife Society, said that she supports the idea for a permanent source of funding. “Not knowing if you have a funding source can impede the year-to-year progress of projects.”

The May/June issue of The Wildlife Professional will feature special coverage of SWAPs from six states as well as more on why federal funding is crucial to the conservation efforts laid out in the plans.

Joshua LearnJoshua Rapp Learn is a science writer at The Wildlife Society.

Read more of Joshua's articles.