By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
As Wyoming grapples with how it will fund wildlife conservation, hunters may lose some of their influence as other groups and interests are asked to increase their financial contributions.
Hunters have been key players in conserving wildlife in the post-frontier era, a development that’s come to be called the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Wyoming Game and Fish Department says 55 percent of its budget comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and fees, and that hunters contribute even more through taxes on guns and ammo.
Since 2005, however, the agency has received general fund money appropriated by the Legislature, now amounting to 6 percent of its budget. That opens the door for others to demand representation in wildlife management decisions.
But those interests, whether they be against hunting or against aggressive predator control, feel they already have a legitimate reason to be heard but still are being shut out.
“I would describe the North American Model as incomplete,” said Thomas Serfass, a professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland and chairman of its department of biology and natural resources who has studied the issue. “It’s never been a complete story of wildlife conservation.”
Hunters have rightly claimed credit for saving or restoring iconic American species, be they elk, antelope, ducks or wild turkey. Yet some point to imperiled sage grouse, declining mule deer populations and the recent Endangered Species Act protection of the Gunnison sage grouse as examples of a broken North American Model.
One of the elements that is missing from the North American Model’s history of wildlife conservation is the contributions of federal land management agencies, Serfass said.
“Federal funding has never been a prominent part of what’s been, or at least what’s been portrayed (as) the North American Model,” he said. “Setting land aside in the public domain in perpetuity is probably the most substantive thing we do for wildlife conservation.”
When the value of federal land programs are put into the mix of wildlife conservation today, hunters’ contributions diminish to a mere 6 percent of funding nationwide, a paper released in October says. “The basis (the North American Model) of public debate is a myth,” says the study Wildlife Conservation and Management Funding in the U.S. The group Nevadans for Responsible Wildlife, Management issued the paper.
“Times are changing,” said Donald Molde, co-author of the study and a former board member of Defenders of Wildlife. “The issue of wildlife — who pays for that (and) whether the non-consumptive user should have a say — this is a body of concern that’s really relatively new … in the last 10 years.”
“What about this public lands argument,” he said. “Holy Toledo, that’s a huge subsidy to hunters.”
Molde’s paper, written with Mark E. Smith, co-founder of the Nevada group, says the eight largest federally funded wildlife programs contribute $18.7 billion annually to wildlife, land management and related programs. Those agencies include the U.S. Forest Service at $9.7 billion, the National Park Service at $3.6 billion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at $2.8 billion and the BLM at $1.2 billion.
Only 5 percent of those agencies’ operating budgets and land acquisition costs are funded by hunters or related activities, the authors say. A similar ratio occurs in the private sector among conservation nonprofits, the study says.
“The 10 largest non-profit conservation organizations contribute $2.5 billion annually to habitat and wildlife conservation; of this, 12.3 percent comes from hunters and 87.7 percent from the non-hunting public,” the paper says. The Nature Conservancy tops the list at $859 million annually, followed by land trusts, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund and Ducks Unlimited, the latter at $147 million.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was last of the top 10 at $54 million, according to Molde and Smith. More....