Wildlife Taxes Wait in Wings Conservation Agents Urge Levies Aimed at Hikers, Not Hunters

Article excerpt

The nation's conservation agents want to protect more wildlife. And they want you to pay for it.

They're proposing a bevy of levies: a 5-cent tax on a roll of film, $1.50 on a new backpack and about a quarter extra for a 5-pound bag of birdseed, among others.

That should help meet the need to help build wildlife protection programs favored by a growing number of Americans, conservation officials said at a conference here Thursday. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt gave the keynote speech.

Such wildlife programs would go beyond the traditional aim of conservation agencies: to maintain fish and game for the hook-and-bullet crowd. They would shift emphasis to maintaining natural areas and wildlife for the burgeoning number of hikers, campers, bird-watchers and others.

"We are crossing a great divide from game management to wildlife diversity management," said Herbert Doig of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

"All people must share in the costs of funding programs to maintain a broader array of species than traditional non-game species," Doig said at a conference of wildlife experts at the Powder Valley Nature Center, in Kirkwood.

The conference runs through Saturday. Among those attending are conservation officials from all 50 states and representatives of the Audubon Society, World Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups.

More than 140 million Americans observe, photograph or feed wildlife. They spend more than $14 billion a year on binoculars, wildlife-identification books and outdoor equipment.

As public support for non-game wildlife activities grew over the past decade, conservation officials realized they had to boost non-game programs. But tight budgets blocked new programs.

So the conservationists are returning to a tried and true method: persuading users to pay. They cited several successful programs since the 1930s, supported by hunters and fishing enthusiasts, to tax ammunition, fishing lures and other aspects of the sports.

Doig and others outlined the fund-raising proposal, called the Wildlife Diversity Funding Initiative. It supports federal legislation that would raise $100 million a year for use by states to pay for local programs.

In Missouri, for example, the initiative would allow construction of wildlife viewing areas along interstate highways and near cities. …