Doug Leier: Federal legislation could provide needed boost to conservation funding for North Dakota
RAWA would dedicate $1.3 billion annually for state-level conservation and $97.5 million to tribal nations to recover and sustain healthy fish and wildlife populations.
WEST FARGO – Pretty much everyone who hunts and fishes in North Dakota knows they have to buy a license first, and most of those people understand that license dollars go to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
What is less understood, despite decades of promotion by state and federal agencies across the country, is the federal excise taxes paid by hunters and anglers when they purchase hunting and fishing equipment such as firearms, ammunition and fishing tackle, and more.
These excise taxes, which roughly account for about 10% of retail purchase price, are collected by the federal government and then distributed back to states. In North Dakota, this “federal aid” accounts for 40% to 50% of the Game and Fish Department’s annual budget.
License fees paid by hunters and anglers (and trappers and boaters, as well, combined with federal excise taxes disbursed to states) account for almost all of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s budget. A small percentage of income also comes from things such as rental of wildlife management areas under haying and grazing contracts, magazine subscriptions, donations and a few other small sources.
So, when it comes to funding hunting, fishing and conservation, looking to the future is important.
Wildlife conservationists in North Dakota and elsewhere applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, lauding the landmark legislation as the most significant investment in wildlife conservation in a generation.
If approved by the Senate, RAWA will provide unprecedented levels of funding for states, along with tribal nations, to conserve and recover imperiled wildlife and plant species.
According to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, RAWA would strengthen the nation’s conservation legacy by dedicating $1.3 billion annually for state-level conservation and $97.5 million to tribal nations to recover and sustain healthy fish and wildlife populations. The funds will be used to accelerate the recovery of the more than 12,000 species of greatest conservation need across the country by implementing strategies identified in each state’s federally approved State Wildlife Action Plan.
If approved as is, it’s estimated that North Dakota could receive about $15 million annually in dedicated wildlife funding.
Jeb Williams, North Dakota Game and Fish Department director, said that while RAWA passing the House was momentous, he understands the hurdles the bill must clear to become reality.
“The Senate will now be the next step in the process, and discussion continues amongst leadership on the importance of this funding,” he said.
Wildlife managers, Williams said, understand that listing a species as federally threatened or endangered may restrict or intensify certain actions on private and public lands. The cost of protection or restoration of a listed species is often far greater than preventing or stemming the decline in the first place.
“We have 115 species of conservation priority in North Dakota, and the backbone of RAWA is to give extra attention to those species, so they don’t become threatened or endangered,” he said. “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a state wildlife grant on steroids, and the funding will certainly provide us the opportunity in North Dakota to keep that from happening.”
As the old saying goes, “money won’t solve all the problems, but it can help.”