LOUISIANA’S PENDING PREDICAMENT
The Future of Funding Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation
story by Sherry Morton, LDWF Public Information
“The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.” - Theodore Roosevelt
Our state and nation are facing a crisis. But it’s one that not many people are talking about. The system used to fund the conservation of wildlife and fisheries’ species and their associated habitat is insufficient to meet the ever-increasing conservation needs - and this means the future of the nation’s natural resources is in jeopardy.
How Conservation is Funded
The current federal funding model for wildlife and fisheries conservation is based on a “user pays, user benefits” system of resource management.
This model was instituted when former president Theodore Roosevelt helped establish the American conservation movement, based on the idea that wildlife and other natural resources belong to all Americans, and therefore, need to be conserved for current and future generations. This conservation movement was supported by many hunters, who recognized the need for wildlife stewardship funding and successfully lobbied Congress to take action.
In 1937, Congress passed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, which established a trust fund for wildlife management by placing an excise tax on the sale of firearms, ammunition and hunting equipment. This funding model was later expanded with the passage of the Dingell-Johnson Act - better known as the Sport Fish Restoration Act - in 1950. This act placed a similar excise tax on fishing equipment.
“The people who wrote these acts were wise to realize that whenever money is tight, like it was during the Great Depression, human needs will always come before the needs of wildlife,” said Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Undersecretary Bryan McClinton. “Therefore, these programs wouldn’t exist without dedicated funding.”
The money generated by these excise taxes, which are paid by the manufacturers, is dedicated to supporting the work of agencies that manage fish and wildlife (like LDWF) through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.
This funding mechanism allows states to make long-term investments in science-based management. And it has been, until recently, effective at funding conservation. With nearly $22 billion having been allocated to the states since 1937, the conservation efforts funded by these acts include a number of success stories - including the restoration of once depleted white-tailed deer, wild turkey, elk, wood ducks, striped bass and many other game species.
However, data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that hunting is now on the decline throughout the country - even as American’s participation in outdoor activities is on the rise. Hunting license sales have fallen from a peak of about 17 million nationwide in the early ‘80s to 15 million in 2019. This translates to widening financial gaps for many state wildlife agencies.
Conservation Funding in Louisiana
And what about in Louisiana? While Louisianians have a great interest in hunting and fishing, recent research has shown that turning that interest into license sales has been a struggle. Since 2015, the number of people who buy annual hunting licenses has been on a steady decline. In addition, the number of senior licenses sold is increasing.
“This is consistent with the nationwide trend that our hunting population is getting older, so more and more hunters are qualifying for the senior license,” McClinton said. “While we are pleased to offer a reduced-cost license to our seniors, this means less revenue for us in the long run. In fact, a senior license, which costs only $5, conveys the same privileges as our Louisiana Sportsman’s Paradise license, our all-encompassing license which costs $100 per year. That equates to a $95-per-license disparity for every senior license we sell.”
LDWF’s primary challenge is that its revenue is not increasing at a rate that keeps up with rising costs and inflation.
“The residential license fees have not increased since 1999 and commercial license fees have not changed since 1985,” McClinton said.
A proposal to increase recreational license fees failed to gain the necessary support from the legislature during the 2018 legislative session.
It is imperative that Louisiana identify ways to address this issue, and here is why. Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service allocates a certain amount of funds to each state through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.
“The amounts are based on a formula that takes into account the state’s hunting and fishing license sales and land/water area,” said Melissa Longman, LDWF’s Sport Fish Restoration Coordinator. “LDWF obligates these funds to various management programs.”
When states receive federal grant funds from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, they must provide a 25 percent match to the federal funds. (In some cases the match is 35 percent.) The match funds can be derived from any non-federal funding source.
“The main support for these grants is what we call our ‘Conservation Fund,’” said Thyme Medlen, LDWF’s Wildlife Restoration Coordinator. “Money in the Conservation Fund comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses as well as royalties from oil and gas sales on our wildlife management areas (WMAs). This fund was already in bad standing at the beginning of the year, and then with the pandemic and related economy issues, the conservation royalties for oil sales have plummeted. That puts us in an even scarier position.”
And, Medlen said, each year the budget gets a little tighter.
“We are concerned that with the way Conservation Fund is heading, we might get to a point where we aren’t able to use the available federal funds because we won’t be able to provide the required state match,” Longman said.
While LDWF has used some innovative solutions to ensure it has enough money to provide the state match (a.k.a. “in-kind funds”) for the federal dollars, it is quickly approaching a critical situation that requires action.
“As a self-funded agency, we haven’t received state general funds for operating services since 2006,” McClinton said. “However, we are at the point where we are spending more money per year than we make - and that is just doing the bare essentials to meet the mission of the department. Our reserves will not last forever. So, finding other revenue sources is very important to LDWF.
McClinton said that LDWF has been more creative than most states when it comes to finding match options.
“We were one of the first states to request using our program income - which means that if we generate any money on lands that we manage with federal dollars we can request to use that as our in-kind match,” McClinton said. “For example, we have a forestry program through which we harvest timber on our state-owned land and so those dollars can be considered as part of our in-kind match.”
“In addition, we have cooperative relationships with a number of timber companies through which they lease land to us, and in turn, we manage the land and maintain the roads for them.
“We work together in a symbiotic relationship, to where they get free road maintenance and we get to provide recreational opportunities,” McClinton said. “A couple of years ago, we hired appraisers to do an assessment of what the monetary value would be if it were leased to someone else. And we are able to use that amount as in-kind match on our Pittman-Robinson dollars.”
Another creative way LDWF meets its match for the federal funds is by getting “credit” for volunteer hours.
“When volunteers teach hunter education classes or aquatic education classes - or when they help with outreach programs - we can count the value of those hours as credit toward our in-kind match,” McClinton said.
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation also purchases products and services that support the Fisheries Outreach & Education programs throughout the year, so LDWF is able to use those expenses as another form of in-kind match.
And, finally, LDWF has partnered with non-governmental organizations like the Wild Turkey Federation.
“We are able to get federal match for that money and turn their $30,000 into $120,000 to use on turkey habitat or something similar,” McClinton said. “This allows us to find a creative match while completing a project that aligns with our mission.”
The Importance of Conservation Funding
Hunters, anglers and boaters currently pay the price to maintain the state’s habitat, wildlife and aquatic resources. But maintaining the resources also benefits others who enjoy them for non-consumptive uses, such as wildlife watching, kayaking, hiking, etc. And recent studies from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicate that while hunting license sales are decreasing, wildlife watching and outdoor recreation are on the rise.
McClinton said that while not everyone hunts and fishes, he hopes people realize why it is important to support the mission of LDWF.
“The wild creatures - the deer, ducks, fish – they don’t get to vote,” McClinton said. “They don’t get to go to the polls to defend themselves. So it is our job to make sure that we maintain their habitat.”
In addition to creating habitat for wildlife, McClinton believes it is important that we have wild spaces in nature.
“As an agency, we are doing what we can to preserve as much of the state as we can,” he said. “LDWF manages 1.5 million acres of public land. We are the largest land manager in the state. We also provide technical assistance to land owners to manage their property for wildlife.
“I hope a lot of people, even if they don’t hunt or fish, have an appreciation for nature and wanting it to have its own place in the world.”
For more details on how LDWF is making Louisiana’s natural heritage last, visit: www.wlf.la.gov/page/making-it-last
Funding Challenges Will Lead to Conservation Challenges
The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is unique among state agencies in that it does not receive any state general fund monies - we are self-funded. License fees, statutory dedicated funds, interagency transfers and federal funds maintain the department.
Inflation, the cost of collecting much-needed scientific data, and the huge cost of emergency responses are taking a toll on the LDWF budget. LDWF is at a point where existing funding will not be adequate to sustain current levels of operations for much longer.
The Future of Conservation Funding
So...how can you support conservation?
- Buy a license - license fees directly support LDWF’s work. In fact, it is the main source of funding. If you don’t hunt or fish, consider purchasing a Wild Louisiana Stamp, which allows you to access any of LDWF’s WMAs and other lands LDWF manages that are available to the public.
- Donate to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation. You can support specific projects or have the Foundation direct your money to where it’s needed most.
- Get involved - volunteer with LDWF, get technical assistance in managing your land for wildlife, partner with LDWF to protect habitat on your land, or help LDWF keep an eye out for rare species.
- Purchase an Endangered Species, Largemouth Bass, or Black Bear license plate and help fund conservation of these important species.
- Get outside and enjoy what LDWF does. Visit a WMA near you and enjoy all that Louisiana’s outdoors have to offer.
- Attend one of LDWF’s outdoor education courses, workshops or special events (from the LDWF home page, click on Events and Education.)
- Follow LDWF on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to keep up with the latest news.
- Keep reading quarterly issues of the Louisiana Conservationist. It is the state’s longest running outdoor magazine.
LDWF uses the money it receives from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs to support a wide array of programs and projects that benefit all citizens, not just hunters and anglers.
Outreach and Education
- Throughout the year, LDWF staff and volunteers make public appearances at boat shows, community events, clinics and other outdoor-related festivals.
- Aquatic education in Louisiana schools statewide
- Aquatic Volunteer Instructors
- WETshop – Wetland Education Workshop for teachers
- Native Fish in the Classroom
- Women’s Fishing Workshops
- Family Fishing Events
- Educator Activity Books
- Big Bass Rodeo
LDWF’s Community Fishing Program: “Get Out and Fish!”
- This program provides easy and affordable access to quality fishing at accessible locations. LDWF partners with local governments and community organizations to stock community fishing ponds with adult channel catfish in the spring and fall and rainbow trout in the winter, weather permitting.
- LDWF marine and inland biologists sample the state’s fish populations using various methods to gather data on many of Louisiana’s important sport fish. With the aid of nets, electrofishing, and diving, biologists across the state are able to sample a wide range of habitats and species. LDWF uses these data to create management practices including possession limits, seasons and stocking schedules.
- LDWF has four hatcheries that produce various freshwater sport fish species. These facilities produce bass, catfish and sunfish that are used to stock public water bodies across the state.
Habitat and Aquatic Weed Management
- LDWF Office of Fisheries assesses the extent of aquatic nuisance plant infestation on recreational fishing habitat and works to control these infestations to improve recreational fishing access. Public areas to be treated are carefully evaluated by biologists to maximize control efforts while minimizing damage to desirable plant species. LDWF biologists determine the extent of aquatic weed infestations and then apply Environmental Protection Agency approved herbicides using skiffs, airboats, and occasionally helicopters.
Boating and Fishing Access
- One of Fisheries’ main objectives is to develop, enhance, and promote public fishing by reducing the barriers to participation. LDWF accomplishes this by building, remodeling and improving public boat ramps, fishing piers and shoreline access areas. LDWF partners with communities throughout the state in efforts to improve public boating and fishing access. These efforts range from adding handicap access to existing fishing piers, to reconstructing old boat launches.
- LDWF holds hunter education courses and trains 12,000 students each year with the assistance of volunteer instructors.
- LDWF manages five shooting ranges and education facilities statewide: Bodcau Shooting Range, Woodworth Outdoor Education Center, Sherburne Shooting Range, Waddill Refuge Education Center and the Honey Island Shooting Range.
Various Educational Programs
- Becoming an Outdoor Woman
- Families Understanding Nature (FUN Camp)
- Archery in Louisiana Schools
- Explore Bow Hunting
- National Hunting and Fishing Day
- Youth Hunter Education Challenge
- Partner with other hunting and shooting related NGO’s and entities to assist in offering wildlife conservation management educational programs
- Participate in sport shows that contribute to the development of responsible behavior and positive attitudes regarding hunting, recreational shooting and wildlife management
Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)
- LDWF manages habitat and infrastructure on 56 WMAs with a combined total of 1.4 million acres of wildlife conservation areas. The management of these properties allows the department to conserve sustainable populations of wild birds and mammals to provide recreational opportunities in Louisiana.
Wildlife Research and Technical Assistance
- The department monitors and performs research on several species of birds and mammals to determine relative abundance, evaluate the status, and provide technical assistance to interested parties. The research projects include:
- Louisiana black bear
- Wild turkey
- White-tailed deer
- Red-cockaded woodpecker
- Various upland game species
- Various waterfowl species
- Harvest surveys
- Disease investigation
- Private Lands technical assistance
- LDWF provides technical assistance to federal, state and local government’s agencies as well as private landowners and commercial/residential developers for the purpose of protecting, conserving and replenishing the fish and wildlife resources of Louisiana.
State and Tribal Wildlife Grants (SWG) Program
- The goal of the SWG Program is to prevent species from being federally listed under the Endangered Species Act. Funds are to support research, fish and wildlife surveys, habitat management, and database management. Projects include research on species such as the alligator snapping turtle, the promotion of prescribed burning on private lands, and the Louisiana Breeding Bird Surveys.
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