Panel Calls for $1.3B to Benefit Vulnerable Species, Habitats

By Dave Solomon, New Hampshire Union Leader

The state’s budget for helping to save vanishing species and their habitats would increase from about $1 million a year to $13 million if a proposal by a national blue-ribbon panel is adopted by Congress and signed into law by the President.

New England cottontail

New England cottontail would be one of many wildlife species in Northeast that would benefit from proposed increase in federal funding./K. Boland

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources, created in 2014, is calling for a $1.3 billion annual appropriation, shared by the 50 states and delivered in block grants to be administered by each state’s Fish and Game Department.

Royalties collected from gas and oil exploration on federal lands and offshore areas would fund the program, with the money distributed on a formula based on state population and land mass.

The panel was launched by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, with 20 members representing the outdoor recreation retail and manufacturing sector, the energy and automotive industries, private landowners, educational institutions, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups and state fish and wildlife agencies.

Former Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Bass Pro Shops CEO John L. Morris were instrumental in the initiative, and both were on hand recently at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to unveil the recommendations and launch the lobbying effort.

John Kanter, New Hampshire’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program supervisor, was also at the press conference. A 20-year veteran of wildlife management in New Hampshire, Kanter said the $1.3 billion being targeted nationwide adds up to about 10 percent of what is collected in the royalty program.

Royalty Rates at Issue

The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently reported that the royalty rate for onshore drilling on federal land, 12.5 percent, has not increased since it was first set in 1920, and raised questions about whether taxpayers are receiving a fair return for the extraction of their natural resources.

But no one at Wednesday’s press conference suggested raising the rate. That battle may come later as the proposal moves through Congress.

“Congress can find a lot of reasons to gridlock on a lot of stuff,” said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “But I think conservation is something that they can rally around.”

The problem of vanishing species has grown particularly acute, according to Freudenthal.

He pointed out that money from hunting and fishing licenses, as well as revenue sharing from the federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment, funds the management of game species, but there is little funding for the preservation of non-game wildlife.

“We don’t actually hunt or fish most species in this country, so we never funded the rest of the puzzle,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Not only can we save thousands of species with this new level of investment, and avoid litigious solutions, but we can create regulatory certainty because folks won’t have to worry about potential (endangered) listings.”

Endangered in N.H.

Kanter said the species of most concern in New Hampshire are those that rely on the Granite State for a large portion of their habitat, and are disappearing, including Blanding’s turtle, the New England cottontail, Bicknell’s thrush and brown bats.

Funding for New Hampshire conservation efforts today is limited to an annual federal grant of about $500,000; another $300,000 from the sale of moose conservation license plates; $50,000 from the state general fund; and about $100,000 a year in private donations.

With additional resources, the state could undertake more ambitious habitat preservation efforts, according to Kanter, such as purchasing easements in key habitat areas.

“This is a wise use of these funds that are already being collected,” said Morris. “We think we are on the verge of something that is so needed, and a simple, straightforward answer is at hand.”

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