Public Lands & Waters photo

by Bob Marshall


That’s the word many conservation leaders use to describe the impact of dramatic budget cuts some in Congress are proposing for programs that benefit fish, wildlife, and sportsmen.

In its rush to reduce the national debt, the same forces in the House that took a sudden ax to these programs last spring are pushing for an additional $4.7 billion in cuts to Agriculture and Interior and Environment appropriations for 2012. Those funds are applied to programs that directly benefit land, water, and wildlife.

“Much of the progress we’ve made over the last decade or so will be in jeopardy,” says Dale Hall, president of Ducks Unlimited. “And the real tragedy is most of these cuts are to programs that actually add revenue to the Treasury–so they actually help reduce the deficit, not add to it.

“Anyone who cares about hunting and fishing had better get involved in this fight.”

Here are six of the most damaging cuts sportsmen are facing.

Land and Water Conservation Fund
2011 cut: $149 million (33 percent)

The LWCF helps fund public lands such as national forests and state wildlife management areas, and acquires land for fishing, hunting, and other recreation. It was chopped to $301 million, a 33 percent reduction. But budget cutters had wanted it down to $55 million.

And this isn’t even from taxpayer dollars. It is composed primarily of a small percentage of lease revenue from offshore mineral leases on public lands. Much of it is granted to states on a 50-50 matching basis.

Federal agencies estimate that there is a $30 billion backlog of vital fish and wildlife lands waiting to be protected for future generations of sportsmen. Without LWCF monies, much of that land will be lost forever.

North American Wetlands Conservation Act
2011 cut: $10.1 million (24 percent)

The NAWCA encourages the creation of public-private partnerships and provides funding to these groups in order to help conserve wetland ecosystems for waterfowl, migratory birds, fish, and other wildlife. Since 1989, NAWCA grants have protected 26.5 million acres of wetlands, making it an essential tool to support duck hunting. The program has been a model of public-private cooperation, with $1.1 billion in federal spending drawing $2.32 billion in matching funds, not only improving the environment for fish, wildlife, and humans but also boosting local treasuries by nurturing the hunting economy.

Yet last year the House leadership wanted to cut the act’s entire $42.6 million budget.

NAWCA grants are essential for wetlands easements and restoration. Waterfowl managers say that duck and goose hunters will immediately feel the results of the cuts.

Wetlands Reserve Program
2011 cut: $119 million (19 percent)

This program, which is run through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, provides grants to farmers to help preserve and enhance wetlands. In 2010 the program benefited 272,000 acres in 46 states.

Because the vast majority of waterfowl in North America are produced on private lands, this is considered a key program in maintaining the wetlands acreage that waterfowl managers say is necessary to ensure ducks and geese in numbers large enough to support hunting as we know it.
State and Tribal Wildlife Grants
2011 cut: $28 million (31 percent)**
Little known to most sportsmen, this program funds proactive work by state and tribal agencies to prevent troubled species from requiring protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Leveraging more than $100 million per year in state and private dollars, the projects benefit sportsmen first by improving habitat for all fish and wildlife, and also by helping cash-strapped state agencies that would otherwise have to divert funds from sportsmen-related programs to mandatory ESA work.

House leadership last year originally wanted to cut all funding. Conservation lobbyists say it is a prime target again this year.

Farm Bill Conservation Section
2011 cut: $508 million (23 percent)

Wildlife officials say Department of Agriculture programs that pay farmers to manage their lands in ways beneficial to wildlife–especially the Conservation Reserve Program–are the most effective conservation programs in the nation. They are essential to maintaining populations of upland birds as well as waterfowl.

Yet because they are included under the unpopular heading of “farm subsidies,” they have been ripe for rash budget cuts.

Last spring, the House forced cuts of $356 million to several programs, and even sliced the Natural Resources Conservation Service operating budget by $118 million.

Sportsmen’s groups are concerned that the entire conservation section of the farm bill carries a bull’s-eye for budget hawks who have painted it as “giveaways” that provide no marketable products.

National Wildlife Refuge System
2011 cut: $11 million (2 percent)

Found in every state, the nation’s 553 wildlife refuges encompass 150 million acres of prime fish and wildlife habitat, offering quality hunting and fishing opportunities within an hour’s drive of most metropolitan areas. And studies show the system is a revenue producer, returning $4 to the economy for every $1 of taxpayer money invested.

The budget was cut by $11 million, but when factoring in inflationary costs and annual cost increases in management capability needs, it’s actually a $19 million cut because refuges need at least $8 million annually just to do what they did the previous year.

Already struggling with a $3.3 billion backlog in maintenance and basic operations that cripples functions at many sites, the system now is facing a call by some members of Congress to cut back funding to 2008 levels.

That draconian action could shutter hunting and fishing programs in many states.

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