As a responsible and engaged American, I am, like millions of other citizens, concerned about our country’s fiscal health. However, as a sportsman-conservationist, I am alarmed that vital conservation programs that provide the nation with a net profit are being eliminated.
Conservation program budgets were cut during the sequester, and now the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee has proposed zeroing out several long-standing, successful and vital grant programs, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Land and Water Conservation Fund, state wildlife grants and others.
The conservation community understands programs important to natural-resource conservation must also be scrutinized during the budget-cutting process. But any cuts should be approached with the fundamental goal of reducing the federal deficit. The drastic cuts and eliminations that have been proposed won’t make a dent in the federal deficit and will in fact hurt our nation’s economy.
Total funding for natural resources is less than 1 percent of the federal budget. This very modest investment provides 60 percent of the direct funding for conservation, making it essential to the future of our natural resources. Much of the remaining investment in conservation comes from states and conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited. The federal Treasury received enough revenue from taxpayers last year to have funded NAWCA over its almost 25-year history and still have 99.9 percent of the money left. This is a true partnership working for all America.
As an example, the wetlands conservation provided under NAWCA purifies our waters, prevents soil erosion, lessens the impacts of floods, buffers coastal storm surges, provides habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, offers outdoor recreation opportunities and creates thousands of jobs for Americans. These jobs can’t be exported overseas.
All of these benefits alone should be enough to merit the continuation of adequate funding, but conservation programs are also powerful economic drivers.
Projects completed under NAWCA must be matched dollar for dollar with non-federal money. Over the lifespan of the program, NAWCA has turned more than $1 billion in federal funds into nearly $3.5 billion in additional non-federal economic activity — an amazing return on our nation’s investment. These projects create nearly 7,500 jobs annually and generate more than $200 million in worker earnings each year.
The positive economic impact of conservation programs doesn’t stop there. Conserving our land, water, and fish and wildlife habitats preserves outdoor recreation opportunities for America’s sportsmen and sportswomen. This is an invaluable heritage — and a vibrant supporting industry — that we must pass on to future generations. Sportsmen spent $144.7 billion on wildlife-related activities in 2011, which would put it at No. 9 on the Fortune 500 list if it were one corporation. Spending by hunters alone pays $5.4 billion in state and local taxes, and if you add in federal taxes paid by hunters, the number more than doubles to $11.8 billion.
I implore Congress to look carefully at the big picture and approach the budget as a long-term investment in our country’s future, just as we in the conservation community have done for decades. Address the real causes of our federal budget woes rather than make shortsighted cuts to programs that not only provide a valuable financial return on investment but also return significant environmental benefits to every U.S. citizen.
Dale Hall, former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, is CEO of Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit organization dedicated to wetlands conservation.