WASHINGTON – Colorado lawmakers and conservation officials are pinning their hopes for additional federal funding of wildlife conservation on two bills recently introduced in Congress.
One of them would redirect about $29 million a year to Colorado from fees paid by companies that extract energy and minerals from federal lands.
Much of the money would be funneled to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“This would be a game changer in Colorado for many species identified in our State Wildlife Action Plan and our conservation work across Colorado,” said Lauren Truitt, spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The Wildlife Action Plan sets priorities for the state’s conservation needs. It also seeks to coordinate efforts among the wildlife conservation community.
In Colorado, conservation is a higher priority than for many states because of vast tracts of land and water set aside for wildlife preservation, according to conservation officials.
“With nearly 30 million acres of public land, an estimated 39 thousand miles of accessible trails and a very active state, outdoor recreation is crucial to Colorado,” Truitt said. “Hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and state park visits benefit Colorado’s economy by contributing $6.1 billion annually.”
State officials described a more grandiose plan in their 2014 State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. If it is carried out as projected, it could generate $34 billion a year for the state, Truitt said.
“As for outdoor recreation in Colorado, it is a major economic driver for both urban and rural communities,” she said.
Nationwide, the bill, H.R. 4647, would contribute $1.3 billion a year in royalties from energy and mineral companies to the federal Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program.
The guidelines for spending the money would require that the supplemental funds be used to manage fish and wildlife species of “greatest conservation need.” State fish and wildlife agencies would determine which species qualify.
Threatened and endangered species in Colorado include the greater sage grouse, prairie chickens, kit foxes and fish such as the Rio Grande chub and the plains minnow.
Sponsors of the bill, U.S. Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said the funds would help conserve more than 12,000 species of fish and wildlife and their habitats.
Their legislative proposal was based on a recommendation by a business group called the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. It was co-chaired by former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal.
“The approach is unique because it calls for early action to save struggling wildlife, rather than waiting until species are on the brink of extinction and need expensive emergency room measures to recover,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation.
A second congressional bill, H.R. 2591, seeks to encourage more conservation funding from hunting and fishing licenses.
“That one is really well-supported in Colorado,” said state Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida.
Under current legislation of the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, the federal government matches revenue states receive from hunting and fishing licenses. The federal funds come from taxes on guns, ammunition and fishing tackle.
The money is then given to state fish and wildlife agencies for their conservation efforts.
The Pittman-Robertson Act is credited with saving the white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and wood ducks from being hunted to extinction.
However, the Pittman-Robertson Act does not allow the money to be used for public outreach programs to recruit more hunters, fishermen and recreational shooters. The pending congressional bill would remove the restriction.
“I think what they’re going to try to do is to provide the state the tools they need,” Wilson said. “If you increase the participation, then you increase the revenue.”
He described himself as “a rifle hunter, a pistol hunter a bow hunter. I do it all.”
Wilson added that he is only “cautiously optimistic” Congress will enact the new bill into law.
“When you’re dealing with the federal government, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” he said.