President’s View: Time for a New Conservation Model

Blue Ribbon Panel forges a plan to save America's wildlife

  • Collin O’Mara, President & Chief Executive Officer
  • Conservation
  • Jul 26, 2016

Left to right, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), NWF President Collin O’Mara and Senator Christopher Coons (DE) help survey horseshoe crabs on the Delaware Bay.

THOUSANDS OF WILDLIFE SPECIES ACROSS AMERICA NEED OUR HELP, and we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to avert a crisis and save them by building a new model for funding wildlife conservation.

Today in America, most wildlife conservation is funded by hunters and anglers who pay excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear and buy licenses, permits and conservation stamps. This is the heart of the revered North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which has helped recover dozens of game species.

Yet the vast majority of species are not hunted or fished, and thousands of these—from songbirds and salamanders to butterflies and bats—are in decline. To manage them, states primarily rely on annual state wildlife grants from Congress, which are unreliable and insufficient. According to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), federal funding for the conservation of imperiled fish and wildlife has declined by a third in recent years, while petitions for federal endangered species listing have soared by 1,000 percent.

A New, Proactive Paradigm

Clearly it’s more costly and less efficient to let species decline to the point where they need expensive emergency-room measures. So in 2014, AFWA convened the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources—a group representing conservation, sporting, energy and business interests. The panel worked to develop a 21st century model to sustainably fund wildlife conservation and, this March, it presented its plan to Congress.

The plan proposes that Congress allocate up to $1.3 billion a year to the federal Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program to help states conserve at-risk wildlife species and habitats. This allocation would come from existing revenues (more than $10 billion a year) the government receives from the leasing of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters. (For more detail, see the National Wildlife article Song of Salvation.)

As a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel, I feel that if we are successful in this effort, we will revolutionize conservation in this nation, charting a course that is proactive rather than reactive and making it possible for species and habitats not just to survive but to thrive.

The ultimate goal is to leave a legacy of healthy land, water and wildlife for the benefit of future generations. We can achieve this if we build a new model. The future of wildlife depends on it.

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More from National Wildlife magazine and NWF:

About Us: Conservation History and Heritage
NWF Commits to New Vision for Wildlife Conservation
Our Work: Teaming With Wildlife
Blue Ribbon Panel Final Report

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