At a time when Pennsylvanians are depending on the outdoors for socially distanced recreation and peace of mind, state officials are considering legislation that threatens these resources
Pennsylvania’s 1.5 million acres of state game land, 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, and almost 2.5 million acres of state parks and forests have a lot to offer hunters, anglers, and public land users of all kinds. These places are critical to our wellbeing right now, but the state legislators entrusted with managing them are considering slashing or even zeroing out conservation funds dedicated to our natural resources.
Here’s what you need to know, how soon this could happen, and what sportsmen and women can do to help.
An Enviable Source of Conservation Funding at Risk
Beyond the public lands and waters that make Pennsylvania special, we also enjoy the benefit of a conservation funding model many states would love to have. Special funds are specifically dedicated to the preservation and conservation of our natural resources, don’t require taxpayer dollars, and provide exponential benefits to our local economies.
Two of these programs—the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund, also known as Growing Greener—have supported conservation projects across the state for 20 years using a portion of the realty transfer tax and a landfill tipping fee. The improvements to water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and public land facilities increase opportunities for hunters and anglers, which helps to drive outdoor recreation and tourism spending.
But these special funds are under threat as elected officials attempt to bridge Pennsylvania’s revenue gap, estimated at up to $5 billion. We understand that these are difficult decisions for lawmakers, but spending state conservation funds elsewhere would have a lasting negative impact for three reasons:
The outdoor recreation industry helps to drive Pennsylvania’s economy. An economic analysis by the TRCP has found that the state’s outdoor recreation economy is worth $26.9 billion. For scale, that means hunting, fishing, biking, camping, and other activities generate $2.2 billion more than the state’s construction industry. This includes almost $17 billion in salaries and wages paid to employees and more than $300 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.
And that was before the pandemic. With more people getting outdoors this year, state fishing license sales have increased 20 percent, boat registrations are up 40 percent, and hunting license sales have increased 5 percent. During this difficult economic time, it’s important that we continue to support this growing sector of Pennsylvania’s economy. Conserving lands and waters and improving access to quality hunting and fishing opportunities helps to power this industry—but we can’t do that without dedicated investments.
The Keystone Fund and ESF support more than just the local outdoor businesses that depend on quality places to hunt and fish. They create jobs with the conservation projects themselves, often with local businesses that are contracted to perform the work.
State conservation funding is a force multiplier. State conservation funds are often matched with federal and private-sector dollars and then boosted by volunteer labor to benefit a diverse range of communities throughout the commonwealth. The Keystone Fund and ESF are often matched four to one with other resources to multiply their conservation impacts. If funding for the Keystone Fund and the ESF are reallocated for other uses, Pennsylvanians will lose out not just on critical state funding, but also on the federal and private match.
We can’t afford to fall further behind. The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources estimates that our state parks and forests are operating with a $1-billion maintenance backlog. Additionally, the commonwealth faces a $324-million gap in funding needed to meet our 2025 EPA water quality goals as a part of the Chesapeake Bay Program. For decades, the Keystone Fund and ESF have helped to close these gaps, putting local companies to work in the process.
Don’t Allow Conservation Investments to Get Cut
Conservation projects don’t happen overnight. They take years of planning and collaboration with stakeholders across the community. Landowners, county conservation districts, watershed associations, local municipalities, sportsmen’s groups, and state agencies all work together to make these projects a reality. Money that is currently being held in the Keystone Fund and the ESF accounts have already been committed to on-the-ground conservation, and taking money from these programs now will mean wasting these efforts and taking away funds that local businesses were counting on.
Because of the election and upcoming holiday season, we have a very brief window to make our voices heard with state representatives and senators who have the power to keep the Keystone Fund and ESF working for fish and wildlife habitat.
Do NOT wait. Take action now and tell decision-makers not to reallocate funding from these critical programs for other uses.