The Cost of ConservationNeil Thagard

 

When people learn I work in conservation, it often elicits responses of “that must be exciting”!  Truly, sometimes it can be.  More often though, the issues that I deal with daily, the issues that have the greatest impact on hunting and fishing, are not the thrilling in-the-field projects people envision. Take conservation funding for example - one of the biggest concerns sportsmen face today.  However, mention it to many avid hunters or anglers, and you’ll receive a glazed expression and a swift change in conversational topic.

Federal funding for conservation is an integral part of our economy and allows resource managers to sustain fish and wildlife habitats and sporting opportunities.  In 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill which either eliminated or drastically cut funding to fish and wildlife programs. As a result, many game agency budgets have been slashed and my home state of Wyoming is no exception. 

Facing a budget shortfall of 7 million dollars mostly due to increasing costs with no additional revenue, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently proposed license and tag fee increases – a measure which was not supported by sportsmen.  It’s easy to see why; nobody wants to pay more, especially in these tough economic times. However, I suspect that had more of Wyoming’s hunters and anglers been educated about conservation funding, what it provides and the potential ramifications of a lack of funding, they would have supported the proposed fee increase.  

Wyoming sportsmen are about to lose much more than the extra $17.00 it would have cost for a resident antelope tag or $14.00 for a resident annual fishing license. The proposed budget reductions will have a direct impact on the places we hunt and fish, most importantly the loss of public access through easement reductions on private lands. There is also going to be less game to chase and fewer fish to catch, as Wyoming is losing both wildlife biologists and habitat improvement projects (which will affect future wildlife numbers). Starting this year there will be more than 600,000 fewer fish stocked in our reservoirs annually.  

However the losses that will potentially have the greatest long-term impact are the cuts to youth programs. The Wyoming Hunting and Fishing Heritage Expo – a program essential to introducing school age Wyomingites to safe outdoor recreation, the value of wildlife and the benefits of conservation will be cancelled, as will educational publications for fourth graders. Department support for the National Archery and Fishing in Schools programs is also disappearing.  Without future generations being responsibly introduced to hunting and fishing, declining sportsmen’s numbers are inevitable. 

Wyoming sportsmen are no doubt going to weather the challenges resulting from their current conservation funding crisis, but this situation is not limited to the Cowboy State.  As belts continue to be tightened nationwide we all need to remember that activities related to hunting and fishing have a significant economic impact, the sporting community is part of a sector that generates more than $1 trillion for the US economy every year.  

All sportsmen have the obligation to become engaged in more than just the aspect of hunting that rolls around each spring and fall. Behind every thrilling hunting tale are the policies and politics that govern how, when and where we as can pursue our passions. We cannot afford to be apathetic when it comes to the less exciting aspects of hunting or fishing; conservation minded sportsmen must actively support legislation that provides adequate and stable funding for conservation programs to ensure that we all have quality places to hunt and fish, both now and for the future.