Not a day has gone by over the last couple of weeks that the national news media has not shared how bad things are going for our federal governement. With the budget crises, tremendous battles in Washington, DC, bipartison politics at its worst and looming financial downgrades in our governments credit rating, things just do not look good for our country at the moment. Being a lifelong hunter/conservationist, I wanted to reach out to some of those in the know and find out a bit more about how all of these budget cuts and the current situation in our government is effecting our wildlife conservation funding throughout the country.
We reached out to Scott Sutherland of Ducks Unlimited who is on the front line of Washington politics and is leading the fight along with many other great conservation organizations working hard to get funding for our very important wildlife resources. Scott Sutherland serves as the Director of DU’s Governmental Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. In his position, Mr. Sutherland has the lead responsibility for DU’s work with Congress and the federal agencies to implement the organization’s policy objectives. Prior to his work with DU, Mr. Sutherland served on the White House staff for President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush. He also worked as a staff member in the United States Senate, and as an aide in both the Alaska State Legislature and the Washington State Senate.
Why are NAWCA and LWCF programs important to sportsmen and women?
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) is the primary federal program that contributes to waterfowl nesting, migrating and wintering habitat across North America. If sportsmen like to see ducks and geese in front of their blinds, they should support this program. Also, keeping in mind the tough economic situation that the federal government is currently facing, this program is fiscally-responsible because it demands a non-federal match for every dollar Uncle Sam puts in. In fact, it may be one of the best values in conservation. An average of $3.20 in non-federal dollars is raised for every one dollar contributed by the federal government. Finally, it works. Projects are documented and results are proven. Since 1989, NAWCA has helped conserve over 26 million acres of important waterfowl habitat.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is one of our nation’s most successful land protection programs. Since 1965, this fund has been protecting forests, natural resources, state and local parks and recreation areas. It is essential to maintaining the integrity of our nation’s public lands. These are the lands where the public gets the chance to hunt and fish. It is important to note that LWCF is not funded through taxpayer generated dollars. Instead, the LWCF receives its funding from a small portion of funds collected from oil and gas companies when they drill for oil and gas on our federal land located offshore. As sportsmen, we should demand that Congress use these funds as they were intended: to provide public recreation, not to divert them to other purposes.
Are there any other benefits that these programs provide to our nation?
You bet. It is important that Congress understands that conservation not only pays for itself, but also impacts our nation’s economy in positive ways by helping to create jobs, sustain small businesses and fuel local economies. Overall, hunting and fishing support more than 1.6 million jobs and generate more than $25 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes. Simply put, an investment in conservation programs helps generate a significant return for America’s economy.
There are currently major budget cuts happening in Washington, D.C. Have NAWCA and LWCF been threatened with reduced funding?
Despite the fact that conservation actually generates revenue for states and the federal treasury, these programs have been some of the hardest hit by proposed budget cuts. The House Appropriations Subcommittee has proposed that NAWCA’s FY 2012 funding be allocated only $20 million, which represents a $17.5 million reduction from its 2011 funding level and a 58 percent reduction from the 2010 funding level.
LWCF is also facing steep budget cuts in FY 2012. The proposed FY 2012 allocation for LWCF represents a nearly 80 percent reduction from the FY 2011 funding level.
Why must sportsmen get involved to help ensure these programs are properly funded?
Now, more than ever, waterfowl need sportsmen’s support. Ducks Unlimited encourages hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts to contact their elected officials and urge them to protect these conservation programs from becoming legislative collateral damage. Remember, waterfowl don’t have a voice unless you speak up; let’s make sure the sportsmen community is heard by Congress. If not us, who will advocate for the waterfowl resource?
How best can the average sportsman get involved and have his voice heard?
The best way for sportsmen to get involved is to contact their members of Congress to let them know that their constituents care about conservation. To call your senators and representatives, contact the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and request to be connected to your elected official’s office. Ducks Unlimited is also asking its supporters to take action by sending a letter to Congress urging the continued funding of NAWCA in FY 2012. To send a letter to your senators and representatives, visit www.ducks.org/NAWCA.
When is Congress expected to vote on NAWCA and LWCF funding?
The U.S. House of Representatives is currently debating H.R. 2584, the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY 2012 this week. This legislation contains recommended appropriations for NAWCA and LWCF. It is currently unclear when H.R. 2584 will be voted on for final passage in the House. Once it is passed in the House, it will go to the Senate to be considered. Ducks Unlimited encourages all sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts to contact their elected officials in both the House and the Senate to request they support the funding of NAWCA and LWCF in FY 2012.
What is Ducks Unlimited doing to help secure funding for NAWCA and LWCF?
Ducks Unlimited understands the need to reduce our deficit and supports this effort. We also understand that when it comes to budget cuts, Congress has some tough choices to make. These hard choices make it even more important that NAWCA, which conserves land while yielding strong economic results, is strongly supported. Ducks Unlimited will continue to meet with members of Congress and their staff to educate them on how important conservation is to our nation’s outdoor legacy and our economy.
How important is it for sportsmen & women to become members of organizations like Ducks Unlimited?
I’m a sportsman that grew up fishing and hunting in Alaska. The first reason to join is because your membership is an investment in your passion. Investing in your passion also gives the next generation the opportunity to pursue the same passions when they grow up. These groups are fighting for habitat and policies that will ensure the “todays” and “tomorrows” for the waterfowl resource. I’d say that after serving as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for 20 years on behalf of wildlife and hunters, I know how very important it is for individuals to band together to effectively have their interests represented before Congress. DU is the only waterfowl organization that maintains a staff in Washington to be in the halls of Congress every day, because the actions and efforts happening here need watching and guidance on a continual basis. Several other sportsmen wildlife groups also have offices in Washington and they are good allies.
What other programs are going to be important for Sportsmen to pay attention to over the next several months?
While NAWCA and LWCF are two main programs that are being threatened, there are other conservation programs that provide benefits to waterfowl and sportsmen. Some of these programs include the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants (SWG) program and the National Wildlife Refuge System. One of the best ways to stay informed on public policy issues affecting waterfowl is to sign up for DU’s weekly public policy e-newsletter, the Waterfowl Advocate. To get the latest conservation public policy news, sign up for the Waterfowl Advocate here.