The pandemic-fueled renaissance in hunting, fishing, and boating participation can only continue if the state invests in habitat and outdoor recreation access
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 natural treasures support our economy, create healthy communities, and provide recreation for our families.
To ensure this continued vitality, Governor Wolf and the General Assembly must provide adequate funding for a Growing Greener III program and a Clean Streams Fund using funding already granted to the state as part of national economic recovery efforts.
Here are two state bills that you can support to advance conservation in the Keystone State and what’s at stake where you hunt and fish.
S.B. 525 – Strengthening the Growing Greener Program
Since its creation in 1999, the Growing Greener program has funded hundreds of parks and trail projects and has a long track record of proven success in conserving the state’s fish and wildlife habitat. Right now, new state legislation is being debated that would establish a framework, build on Pennsylvania’s conservation legacy and boosting the outdoor recreation economy by providing the necessary authority for administrative agencies in the Commonwealth to fund vital conservation projects identified since the last time Growing Greener was fully authorized. Approximately $500 million would come from the dollars given to the state from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Pre-pandemic numbers showed that the outdoor recreation industry helps to drive Pennsylvania’s economy. This was even more true as residents committed to social distancing and other forms of indoor entertainment were closed due to COVID-19.
State fishing license sales have increased by 20 percent, with boat registrations up 40 percent. One-time spikes in participation are impressive enough, but it is extremely important that we continue to support this growing sector of our state’s economy. And this can’t be done without dedicated investments.
Growing Greener III would provide the funding needed to give our economy this boost while conserving natural resources that will increase our quality of life for years to come.
S.B. 832 – Establishing a Clean Streams Fund
A separate state bill would help to safeguard and restore Pennsylvania streams and rivers, while stimulating economic growth in our communities. Our great state is blessed with tens of thousands of miles of unmatched waters, but we are not without water quality challenges.
First, as use of our natural resources increases, so does the need to safeguard fish and wildlife habitat. Many state parks and forests saw 100- to 200-percent bumps in visitation, but parks with large water features saw as much as a 400-percent increase in foot traffic since the pandemic began.
At the same time, almost one-third of Pennsylvania’s surface water does not meet state water quality standards for either fish or humans, putting our health at risk and diminishing our economy. By investing $250 million of Pennsylvania’s share of American Rescue Plan funds, Senate Bill 832 would establish a new fund dedicated solely to water quality—specifically focused on “non-point” sources of pollution, such as agricultural runoff and acid mine drainage, that are spread throughout our state.
The bill—along with its House companion, H.B. 1901—would also create the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program to help farmers implement conservation practices that keep valuable topsoil in place and reduce potentially harmful material from reaching local waterways. This would have impacts from the Keystone State all the way to the Chesapeake Bay.
This legislation would go a long way toward helping us protect Pennsylvania’s water resources and expand access to outdoor recreation, while shoring up the health of vital industries like tourism and agriculture.
If you value our state’s coldwater fisheries, big game and bird habitat, and widespread public access to outdoor recreation that supports local jobs, do NOT wait. Act now and urge decision-makers to support S.B. 525 and S.B. 832 today.
Top photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Game Commission via Flickr.