A Crossroads For American Hunters and Anglers: What's At Stake

Although I cannot match Bob Marshall's deeply researched story from two weeks ago concerning House Resolution 1, the US House of Representatives proposal to cut our crushing federal deficit, I just took part in a teleconference on the budget bill that left me so unnerved that I have to address the same topic. I'm not trying to beat readers over the head with this, but we are at a crossroads for American hunters and fishermen.

The situation goes far beyond political parties. It is about representatives who may be well-meaning, but are ignorant of the very basics of conservation and how it affects our economy, our quality of life, and our access to basic resources like clean water, not to mention fish to catch and wild game to hunt. There are times when those who know what is at stake must inform the decision makers. In this case, it is sportsmen who know the facts on the ground, and now is such a time.

Let's look, again, at what is at stake. And please remember, the part of the federal budget that is devoted to conservation and land and water protection makes up about .5% of the entire budget. You could kill our entire legacy of conservation, ensure the loss of most of our wildlife and fisheries, allow the poisoning of our air and waters, and do nothing whatsoever to actually address the national debt. (And, although it is beyond my scope here, please apprise yourself, as a taxpayer, or just a citizen, of all that has NOT been targeted for cutting. According to these elected representatives, what we can do without as a nation, first, are mostly the things that we hunters and fishermen understand to have great value. WE are the low-hanging fruit.)

A few outtakes from the teleconference:

Bill Geer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership: "HR 1 cuts $398 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. These are not taxpayer funds- they come from offshore oil and gas royalties, and the money is already there for conservation projects. The bill just takes the money away and directs it elsewhere..."

At stake: just one example out of hundreds- acquisitions like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's years-long effort to obtain public access and protect elk range on over 8200 acres along Tenderfoot Creek, a tributary of Montana's famed Smith River.

Scott Yaich of Ducks Unlimited: "HR 1 zeroes out the budget for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), even as we are losing an estimated 80,000 acres of wetlands annually in the US...

"We are talking about the loss of $200 million in worker's earnings from the restoration and other projects that will be halted by these cuts. These are projects that pay for themselves, and then some, for year after year….and we are talking about this even while the snowmelt this spring is already causing flooding in the upper Midwest due to the filling of wetlands...huge costs, directly related to the loss of wetlands... NAWCA has always been an investment with a high return..."

Mark Humpert of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies: "We see the loss of state and tribal wildlife grant funding, the loss of funding matches from revenues like the Pittman-Robertson tax on firearms and ammunition…program like Teaming for wildlife, which has been one huge success in protecting non-game and at-risk wildlife species. This has been the core federal program for proactive, non-regulatory species protection, keeping species from becoming endangered and subject to federal regulation.

Examples: Work throughout the Big Hole River basin to restore populations of native Arctic Grayling.

Milk River initiative: restoring riverbottom habitats and riparian areas in northern Montana

1000's of other projects across the US."

Humpert: "If we want a future for our birds, with abundant wildlife and fishing, this (Teaming for Wildlife) is one of the programs that we cannot lose."

Steve Moyers, Trout Unlimited: "HR 1 will halt funding for the EPA to assess what waters are covered by the Clean Water Act. Since the two Supreme Court decisions limiting the scope of the Clean Water Act, what waters are covered and what are not has been in question. HR 1 proposes to stop the EPA from assessing those waters..."

The 404c program of the Clean Water Act is a veto power used by the EPA to halt projects that are deemed to be extraordinarily wasteful, unnecessary, or destructive. "It's only been used 13 times," Moyers said, "but it has stopped some of the most destructive and wasteful projects ever proposed."

Among those projects: the public-money and fisheries squandering Yazoo Area Backwater Pumps Project in Mississippi, and the Two Forks Dam on the South Platte River of Colorado, a project that would have drowned a thirteen-mile long gold medal trout fishery and thousands of acres of bighorn sheep, elk, deer and bear habitat near Denver, all to boost real estate development in sprawling Denver.

"HR 1 zeroes the budget for the 404c program," Moyers says, noting also that it zeroes the budget for further work on the Cheapeake Bay clean-up and restoration.

Dave Nomsen of Pheasants Forever: "We are coming off a 20 year success story with wetlands conservation, with 232,000 acres enrolled, and more landowners waiting for enrollment. HR 1 cuts $119 million from that. Cuts $130 million from our Conservation Stewardship Plan. Cuts the Conservation Incentives Plan. I know we are all looking for cuts to the budget, but we have to fund these critical and successful programs."

I have written here before about how so many of our citizens seem to have no idea why we have the resources that we have. We no longer seem to know why you can turn on your faucet and, for pennies or less, enjoy a drink of cold, refreshing water--even though that's a luxury unheard of throughout most of the world. Why you can breathe clean air, and have supper in an old rural tavern that makes all its money during deer season. Cast for rainbows in the city limits of Missoula, Montana, or shoot a limit of ducks in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, hunt turkeys on the Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area in Tennessee, and so on, where ever it is that you love, where you take your kids or grandkids fishing or swimming or hunting. We've had it good, based on the hard work of those who came before us. The reason we have had it good (and one of the reasons that we live in a truly exceptional nation) is because of programs like the ones that will be cut under HR1.

The short-sighted drafters of HR 1 offer us a future that looks a lot like contemporary Mexico or India, or China, a future where most of the gains of our past have been lost, and where the pressures of population growth and the loss of a conservation ethic will produce losses that are unimaginable from where we stand today. These losses will cost billions of dollars to reverse if they can be reversed at all. HR 1 is not yet the law of the land. There is still time for citizens who know what is at stake to contact their representatives, and help them understand what we as sportsmen know by heart.