The Beaver State is testing an innovative new funding idea that would benefit all species, including game
Hunters and anglers have long been champions of a proven conservation funding model based on a user pay-to-play system, which has been incredibly effective at restoring and sustaining fish and wildlife populations across the country.
Unfortunately, participation in hunting is declining. A 2016 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed that participation in hunting dropped in the previous five years by more than 2 million people to a total of 11.5 million hunters. Total expenditures by hunters also declined by 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 to $25.6 billion.
This has significant ripple effects on not only the key federal funding models that support conservation of fish and wildlife, but also the base of support for our public lands and natural resources policies.
Though license sales seem to be on the rise in this season of social distancing, declining participation in hunting is expected to speed up within the next ten years and widen already existing funding shortfalls. There is a growing need for the wildlife conservation community to broaden this funding base through alternative measures and opportunities to bring the greater outdoor recreation community into a stronger and more diversified funding model.
In my home state of Oregon, a broad group of stakeholders, including the TRCP, have been working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and state legislators to find innovative ways to bring in more funding and resources for fish and wildlife conservation. Here’s what that could look like and what needs to be done to ensure its success.
A Stronger Future for Conservation Funding
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) receives less than 10 percent of its budget from the state general fund and instead relies on revenue from fees paid by hunters and anglers. As is the case in many states, this funding model cannot keep up with the many challenges facing Oregon’s fish and wildlife, such as human population growth, development, drought, climate change, and ocean acidification.
Additionally, most of the funds received by state agencies like ODFW must be focused on game species. As a result, some of Oregon’s fish and wildlife in greatest need of conservation efforts are without a dedicated funding source because they are not pursued by sportsmen and women.
Oregon has been working for several years to diversify its conservation funding to best address the 21st century challenges facing the state’s more than 700 species of fish and wildlife. In 2019, the state legislature passed HB 2829 to create the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund. The law will put $1 million from the general fund aside to be matched by $1 million in private funds raised by ODFW and other partners, and this will serve as seed money toward an alternative, sustainable source of conservation funding in our state.
The legislation also created an advisory committee that approves the use of this funding for projects that focus on the goals of the Oregon Conservation Strategy and the Nearshore Strategy, two plans developed by ODFW that identify top conservation priorities. Significantly, the new Conservation and Recreation Fund would provide funding for non-game species and for improving outdoor recreational opportunities for all Oregonians. It would also serve as matching funds for federal investments made through the proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, national legislation that would distribute conservation funding across the country, including $20 million annually here in Oregon.
The advisory committee has recently chosen the first set of projects that will be funded through OCRF. Among other things, these efforts will help to conserve wildlife by improving beaver habitat in the high desert, installing a new wildlife underpass and fencing along Highway 97 in central Oregon, and researching the feasibility of reintroducing sea otters along Oregon’s coastline.
But there is a catch: The legislature will only provide the $1 million in general funds if the match is provided by private sources. To date, thousands of Oregonians have already stepped up to raise more than $200,000 as of November 1, but time is running out. The legislature asked for the full amount of funding to be matched by private donations by December 31, 2020.
How to Help
For this idea to work, we must show legislators that all Oregonians who enjoy the outdoors are willing to pitch in for the conservation of fish and wildlife, not just hunters and anglers. Support for OCRF is not just about raising a million dollars, it’s about working together to shift how state government prioritizes general fund dollars and invests in meaningful conservation work.
If the current fundraising campaign is successful, coalition partners like the TRCP will confidently go back to the state capital and make sure a bill is submitted that dedicates $13 million to $15 million a year from the general fund toward fish and wildlife management.
As hunters and anglers, we already pay to play. We shoulder the burden of conservation for everything the outdoors gives us. But we should strive to work with all Oregonians who enjoy the outdoors to give conservation funding a successful future. This new fund will improve critical conservation goals, expand opportunities for responsible outdoor recreation, and reduce barriers for underserved communities to better access the outdoors.
Will we see 100,000 Oregonians support these efforts with a gift of $10 for conservation? Please join us in support of modernizing funding for wildlife conservation and improving outdoor opportunities for all.
Learn more at oregonisalive.org.
Top photo by Rick Swart/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife via flickr.