Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Wildlife should benefit from stimulus

We are all reading or hearing about the economic stimulus package that President-elect Barack Obama and Congress will be working on. Whether you think it is a good idea or not, the likelihood that some form of stimulus package will become law is pretty much a certainty.

Last month, 31 hunting, fishing, conservation and environmental organizations jointly sent a letter to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, supporting additional funding for habitat conservation and green infrastructure projects.

What I found very interesting and frankly refreshing about who had signed the letter was that these 31 groups have not always been willing to work together.

Environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society and the Wilderness Society joined with the American Sportfishing Association, the Boone and Crockett Club, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in support of specific conservation funding.

The letter stated, “The attached recommendations represent a unique consensus among a wide range of organizations specifically aimed at habitat-oriented projects that benefit fish and wildlife while stimulating local economies, particularly through job creation.”

This is a remarkable turn of events. Hopefully one that will become a pattern and not an exception.

Like many, I am not sure the answer to our nation’s economic woes is more government spending. But, if taxpayer funds are going to be used to stimulate the economy then using that money for habitat conservation, public access and recreational opportunity makes sense.

Investments in our natural resources offer a variety of economic benefits. Hunting, fishing and other recreational activities are economic engines that provide tax revenue, conservation dollars and jobs for local economies.

These organizations point out that investments in conservation projects provide job-creation opportunities in engineering, landscaping, hydrology and other biological fields. These types of projects need specialized equipment operators, construction crews and many other skilled laborers.

The group noted, “Our estimates indicate that over 160,000 jobs would be created through this funding request. This figure represents direct job creation as a result of the proposed stimulus investments and does not include secondary job creation. Most of these programs and projects would be initiated and jobs created within 3-6 months, with the goal of completing obligations within one year.”

When you add it all up, these groups are recommending an investment of nearly $9 billion. Seems like a lot of money doesn’t it? Sure does to me.

But if you look at it as part of the whole and if the current $700 billion being discussed is close to the final amount, then these programs will only get a bit more than one and a quarter percent of the total.

I think our natural resources, fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities deserve that and more.

Let’s take a look at some of the specific recommendations.

For the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, they recommend increased funding for Habitat Restoration Programs like the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, the Fish Passage Program and the Coastal Program. Because of the project backlog in each of these programs increased funding would immediately lead to more jobs.

Another U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program that could use more money is the North American Wetland Conservation Act grants program. NAWCA has a great track record of success. Demand for these grants is growing and exceeds current funding levels.

New funding would mean engineering and construction related jobs. Given the importance of wetlands and the continued projected losses of this critical habitat, more NAWCA grants make sense.

The National Park Service is another important agency in desperate need of funding. Estimates of the operations and maintenance backlog are somewhere north of $8 billion, more than half of that amount is needed just for road and trail repair.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a number of important conservation programs at the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The groups making the recommendations point out that U.S. Forest Service could use funding assistance for sustainable forests. Funds would be used to improve water quality and wildlife habitat while ensuring a supply of wood and forest products.

Programs like Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation with a backlog of more than $400 million, would use the funding to improve recreational access and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Wildfire is a growing worry. More than 100 million acres of state, private and national forests are at risk across the nation. Funding for hazardous fuels reduction and post-fire restoration would help make our rural communities safer, provide jobs, support local economies and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Valley residents and visitors know what an asset our National Parks and National Forests are. Using new funding to improve these important recreational venues is a smart investment.

Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor recreations are important contributors to our national economy. Hunters and anglers spend $76 billion each year to enjoy their sports. They are an economic engine with a “ripple effect” of $192 billion.

That ripple effect means people have jobs and local economies thrive. Besides the direct hunting and fishing jobs, other businesses benefit – businesses like gas stations, retail, restaurants and hotels in every state and congressional district.

As taxpayers we have a right and duty to express our views on how the government spends our money. If we are going to spend the money, then these programs and projects are worthwhile investments.

Take the time to tell our elected officials that hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation are important to our economy and deserve financial support.

You can read more of my columns in the News Virginian.

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