WGA discusses species conservation funding
As part of an ongoing series for the Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act Initiative, the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) hosted a webinar on Sept. 7 on species conservation funding.
During the presentation, panelists discussed current funding methods, challenges and opportunities for conservation work.
Environmental Policy Innovation Center Executive Director Timothy Male explained an important way to analyze funding is to look back at data recorded from the 1980s to present.
“There were hundreds of endangered species back at the beginning of the federal list, and now, there are more than 1,500,” he said. “If we control for the number of species and control for the inflation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget for endangered species has barely budged in 30 years.”
He noted that approximately $100,000 per species was allotted in the 1980s, and in the mid-2000s, it was about $150,000 in inflation adjustment per species.
“It’s dropped again in recent years,” he noted. “We’ve never really seen a fundamental shift in the resources available on a per-species basis for conservation, and there is not a lot of progress in getting that number to grow. Those numbers are a small fraction of what’s needed.”
As an example, Male discussed state wildlife grants, which is a program developed from an earlier effort to create comprehensive funding for state wildlife agencies.
“That broader effort didn’t work, but it created an extremely important program, the state wildlife grant, which is responsible for more than $1 billion in assistance, has gone out to all 50 states and territories,” he commented.
Male continued, “That funding, which has always been less than $100 million per year, has been on the decline for years. It’s nowhere near enough for the challenge.”
According to Male, the Farm Bill is the single largest source of conservation funding in the U.S., with approximately $4 billion to $5 billion going to conservation.
“Now, that’s mostly not going to wildlife specifically, but a large amount of that money has enormous wildlife benefits, and some funds are targeted for at-risk wildlife, like the sage grouse conservation initiative,” he said.
While the money may seem like a large amount, Male explained the vast expanse of private lands in the U.S. and inflation means that funding is proportionately less than it was for working lands from the 1930s to 1950s.
Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Program (TRCP), noted one of their critical campaigns the organization is focused on right now is the 2018 Farm Bill and specifically the Title II conservation programs.
“We have a policy center dedicated solely to agriculture policy, and we see tremendous opportunities with one of the largest federal funding sources out there for how we move the need for these special species conservation programs working in the private land structure,” said Plumer.
“We’re hearing a lot about the federal budget right now where there was a big deal cut by the President on Sept. 6 with House and Senate Democrats, and we’re hearing right now that Rep. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is on board with that,” said Plumer. “That is good news when it comes to conservation funding because it keeps us ticking along at fairly level funding for the next couple months at least.”
She noted the temporary budget deal manages conservation funding through mid-December.
“We’ve also got a short-term continuing resolution, which keeps the federal government ticking along at these stable funding levels, consistent with the current numbers we’re operating under for fiscal year 2017,” commented Plumer.
After a detrimental budget proposal in 2011, Plumer explained numerous conservation organizations have advocated for stable funding for conservation within the discretionary, non-military portion of the federal budget, called Function 300.
“It funds everything from the Department of Interior to components of the Department of Commerce, Army Corp of Engineers and all of the different agencies that trickle down under that,” she said.
Plumer continued, “There’s a big effort underway to keep this funding level stable, but we are continuing to see a tick downward. That’s due to a number of pressures.”
Blue Ribbon Panel
From the nonprofit conservation community perspective, Plumer stressed her organization’s focus on supporting states through the Blue Ribbon Panel.
She explained 80 percent of current funding for state wildlife action plans comes from license fees, excise fees and taxes, with remaining funding coming from existing federal funds.
“Current funding is approximately $60 million annually, and the gap that exists between the funding needed that the Blue Ribbon Panel has identified is upward of $1.2 billion annually,” commented Plumer.
TRCP is strongly supportive of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act legislation that was introduced to Congress in 2016, she continued.
“It really dives into the needs out there and ensures that $1.3 billion is annually dedicated,” she said. “The act takes federal resources and ensures they go to address these needs through a program currently in existence,” referencing the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program
Plumer concluded, “This would ensure there’s permanent funding coming from federal resources and ensure those go to the long-term sustainability of fish and wildlife.”
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.