Under their leadership, AFWA’s bipartisan Blue Ribbon Panel will produce recommendations on how the nation can fund natural resource conservation to sustain the full array of fish and wildlife species.

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) announced that Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops founder, and Dave Freudenthal, former Wyoming governor, will co-chair AFWA’s new, national Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Fish and Wildlife Resources to advance recommendations for funding a 21st century model of conservation.

Under the co-chairs’ leadership, the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Panel will convene 20 invited visionaries representing the outdoor recreation retail and manufacturing sector, the energy industry, conservation organizations and sportsmen’s groups to recommend funding solutions and Congressional policy options for delivering sustained conservation funding to states and their partners that maintain a balance between natural resource diversity and natural resource-based enterprise.

“I strongly believe that the future of our industry, the outdoor sports that we serve, and the outdoor sports we personally enjoy, is absolutely more dependent upon how we manage our natural resources than anything else,” said Johnny Morris. “Industries, agencies, key conservation organizations and individuals can work together and assure a very bright future for America’s full diversity of fish, wildlife, and their habitats.

The Blue Ribbon Panel is the first effort to bring business, energy, conservation and environmental interests to the table to focus on funding a 21st century model of conservation to sustain the full array of fish and wildlife species for our country.”

Over the past several years, federal funding for the conservation of imperiled fish and wildlife species has declined by one-third, while petitions for federal endangered species listing has skyrocketed by 1,000 percent. According to the Government Accountability Office, once listed, the average cost to U.S. taxpayers for the recovery of a single species can exceed $125 million.

Thousands of additional species could be listed in the coming years leading to more expensive recovery attempts; reduced recreational and development access; and increased regulation and compliance costs.

“We’ve reached a point where inaction will only dig us a deeper hole of controversy, litigation, lost business opportunities and declining fish and wildlife,” said Mr. Freudenthal. “I’m honored to co-chair the Blue Ribbon Panel with Johnny Morris to ensure wildlife and business prosper and divisiveness and reactionary conservation are a relict of the past.”

State hunting and fishing license dollars, federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear and motorboat fuel taxes have provided the backbone for funding states’ fish and wildlife conservation programs over the past century. However, there has always been a gap in dedicated funding for conserving the 95 percent of all species that are neither hunted nor fished.

Only partially filling that gap is the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, the sole federal source of funding to state agencies to prevent new endangered species listings. Since 2010, the program’s funding has been cut by more than 35 percent.

“The diversity of wild species that inhabit this nation’s lands and waters belong to every American to experience, use and enjoy,” said Dan Forster, director of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and 2013-2014 president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “We owe it to the resources we manage and the public that pays our bills to not relent until we solve the fiscal predicament that looms if we don’t find a more equitable funding model for fish and wildlife conservation.”

Mr. Morris and Mr. Freudenthal intend to convene three meetings of the Blue Ribbon Panel over the course of a year to develop funding recommendations. The list of Blue Ribbon Panelists will be announced in the coming months. Staff from AFWA and state fish and wildlife agencies will support the work of the Panel.

The official announcement of the Blue Ribbon Panel co-chairs was made at the annual Teaming With Wildlife Fly-in Congressional Reception on February 26, 2014 in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Teaming With Wildlife is a national coalition of more than 6,400 conservation organizations and nature-based businesses—representing state fish and wildlife agencies, wildlife biologists, hunters and anglers, birdwatchers, hikers and other conservationists—to garner support for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program.

Logo courtesy Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies

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