By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald
A news release from Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) Communications came across my desk this week, and I felt the information was worth sharing. B.A.S.S. has served as the authority on bass fishing for more than 45 years.
If the federal government’s sequestration scheme to reduce spending continues as originally planned, millions of dollars will be withheld from states for managing fish and wildlife.
“I’m very sad that this is happening, and I’m disappointed that leaders in our government can’t work together to fix this,” said Noreen Clough, national conservation director for B.A.S.S. and former Southeast Region director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It is going to hurt resource management by limiting what the state and federal agencies can do.”
The current version of sequestration, which imposes about $85 billion dollars in across-the-board federal spending cuts, went into effect March 1.
State fisheries programs are being impacted, not because of federal spending cuts but because apportionments from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program will be withheld, courtesy of poorly written legislation, Clough noted.
“It’s a quirk in the language,” she explained. “The money is protected from being diverted, but there’s no protection from limiting apportionments.”
Although the funds are available, having been collected from excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear and motorboat fuel and pledged to the states for fish and wildlife management, 5.1 percent of it will be held back. That amounts to $46.2 million.
The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies is working to free those funds for the states. “Please know that we continue to pursue an exemption for the trust funds,” Jen Mock Schaeffer, government affairs director, told state fish and wildlife directors.
As of right now, Texas looks to be the hardest hit, losing $2.2 million. Alaska will be denied $2.1 million, and California $1.9 million. Every state will lose at least $300,000.
Additionally, sequestration’s cut to the rate of growth for environmental programs could result in states losing more than $100 million in grants and other assistance for protecting water and air from hazardous wastes, pesticides and other pollutants. California and New York each could be deprived of more than $12 million.
“I’m really disappointed that people haven’t picked up on the fact that what’s happening will impact resource management,” Clough said. “The tentacles of sequestration go way beyond what’s reported in the news.”
An e-mail to Bret Preston, WVDNR Wildlife Resources Section, provided this piece of information on the subject from a local perspective:
“Wildlife Restoration Program (Pittman-Robertson Act) funding is based on an excise tax on firearms and ammunition, and these funds are up significantly. Therefore, we do not expect any immediate impact to agency programs funded under this Act.
“Sport Fish Restoration Program (Dingell-Johnson Act) funding is based on an excise tax on sport fishing equipment, import duties on fishing tackle, yachts and pleasure craft, and has not realized the same increase in funding as the Wildlife Restoration Program. Therefore, we will need to make some adjustments to our budget after we receive additional information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
While the initial financial impacts of sequestration remain uncertain, the greater concern is the withholding of these funds from states for their intended purposes of fisheries and wildlife research, management and fishing and boating access as entrusted by sportsmen and women and industries that pay the money to support these critical state programs.
From B.A.S.S. to WVDNR, wildlife and conservation organizations are keeping close tabs on the new federal budget sequestration and how it will affect our cherished natural resources and West Virginia sportsmen’s favorite pastime — hunting and fishing.
Here’s hoping the weather clears and fish are hungry when it does.