October 2015: A Blue-Ribbon Effort to Identify Creative Financing

Tom Bigford square

Thomas E. Bigford, AFS Policy Director

Fish and wildlife programs in the United States are suffering from a financial wasting disease of staggering proportions. Governments struggle mightily to sustain basic research, management, regulatory, and education programs, losing each year in the battle for citizen support and discretionary dollars. Against that backdrop, former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal and Bass Pro Shops CEO John L. Morris established a Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources “to recommend funding solutions and congressional policy options that mutually benefit America’s industries, agencies, and our shared fish, wildlife, and economic heritage” (AFWA 2015). That effort demands our attention. Here’s the back story, a summary of AFS involvement to date, and some suggestions for next steps.

This blue-ribbon panel was launched at the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) 2014 annual meeting in St. Louis. The panel of 20 visionary leaders from all sectors share in their conviction that:
• America’s fish and wildlife are resources worth sustaining;
• Collaboration, not regulation, is the best path toward securing a future where fish and wildlife and natural resource-based enterprise thrive;
• It’s time to launch the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources; and,
• By working together, we can advance a solution for funding a 21st century model of conservation.

The panel has dedicated much of the past year to engaging with conservation and business partners with insights that can inform the search for a new funding model. AFS has been involved, most recently in a direct dialog with AFWA (coordinating much of the panel’s work) and with panel members as an invitee to a July 2015 discussion. To provide a glimpse of the breadth of the panel’s conversations, other groups at that meeting included the National Association of Realtors, American Rivers, League of Conservation Voters, The Wildlife Society, National Sporting Goods Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the New Jersey Audubon Society. I find it refreshing that the panel is talking with trade associations, citizen groups, professional societies, groups well outside the natural resource field, and more. The resulting discussions were robust and very encouraging.

Collectively, I sense a bipartisan, interdisciplinary urgency that becomes more timely with each potential Endangered Species Act listing, each catastrophic event that siphons dollars from yesterday’s priorities, and every climate trend analysis. The time is ripe for much more than idle reflection.

Based on ideas shared by a half-dozen groups, it was encouraging to hear ideas building from one speaker to the next. The Turner Endangered Species Fund (yes, Ted Turner) had great ideas for those few yet influential mega private-land owners who control huge swaths across our nation’s watersheds. The Turner group is engaged in battles for the most charismatic mammal to the smallest snail. Trout Unlimited offered examples from the wine industry of how private enterprise can embrace a fishfriendly approach, with financial success.

AFS has offered some ideas along the way:
• Fish and wildlife programs should look beyond their traditional borders to “network” connections with allied fields such as water quality and hydrology that can address similar goals. Some state coastal zone management programs were designed across common interests but without a shared roof.
• Huge opportunities await in transportation, water treatment, and agriculture programs, and probably more. Focusing on transportation, we suggested opportunities presented by disaster responses to severe storms that could yield wins for vehicles, fish, and citizens within the bounds of existing highway culvert and bridge programs. Simply, storm-resistant infrastructure with a wider footprint will resist storm surges, enhance fish passage, and be more enduring for local residents. It would be cost effective for fish folk to talk with transportation leaders—and all indications are that dialog would be welcome by all.
• Settlement dollars from natural resource damage assessment agreements can yield many millions or even billions of “damage” dollars to counter “injuries” to natural resources. The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is but one recent example, with early restoration projects soon to be followed by long-term responses that could support state and federal resource programs in Gulf States for more than 15 years.
• Across our examples, we reminded the panel members of the basic economic precept to “internalize externalities.” Just as fishers need to address the effects of their gear and dispose of live bait in a responsible manner, other industries need to account for their discharges, etc. There are no free lunches!
• Finally, we urged agencies to avoid management strategies that demand constant investment, like stocking coldwater trout in warmwater systems for put-and-take fisheries. Instead, fishery managers should adopt solutions like hookand- release fisheries with gear that minimizes trauma to the fish yet maintains the fishing experience and associated sectors.

The conversation about the 21st century model continues. We encourage you to engage, as a fish professional, as an AFS member, and as an active citizen. The panel needs to hear from each of us! AFS is in this for the long haul, and will remain engaged through AFWA and with the panel. Feel free to submit ideas to me for transmittal at our next opportunity. While no public sessions are scheduled, we do plan to keep the dialog open with our contacts from the July event and other means. Personally, I’m looking forward to fish-friendly approaches beyond TU’s partnership with Steelhead Vineyards to landowner efforts outside the million-acre tracts controlled by the top 1% of the top 1%.


AFWA (Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies). 2015. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. See fishwildlife.org/index. php?section=blueribbonpanel. (July 27, 2015)

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