Keeping It Wild: Preserving Wildlife and Habitat While Allowing Development and Outdoor Recreation Is a Tough Balancing Act

By Savage, Melissa; Shinkle, Douglas | State Legislatures, May 2010 | Go to article overview
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Keeping It Wild: Preserving Wildlife and Habitat While Allowing Development and Outdoor Recreation Is a Tough Balancing Act


Savage, Melissa, Shinkle, Douglas, State Legislatures


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In the thriller "Collateral," the characters played by Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise are driving through central Los Angeles when they have an unexpected encounter with a coyote.

The animal, yellow eyes glowing, wanders into the street in front of their cab. The incident, apparently unplanned by director Michael Mann, makes a stark point: Across the country, people increasingly find themselves sharing their living space with wildlife. Business and residential development have pushed into wildlife habitat. Highways and suburban neighborhoods have cut wildlife off from habitat essential for survival.

Nationwide, the protection of wildlife and the areas where they live must be balanced with development and recreational uses. State agencies provide oversight of wildlife planning efforts, but state lawmakers play a significant role, too, because they hold the purse strings.

Utah Representative Roger Barrus knows a thing or two about preservation and conservations. An unhealthy ecosystem can lead to the extinction of a species, he says, and that can ultimately be a death knell to further development of agriculture, grazing, energy development, forestry, recreation and more in habitat supporting endangered species. Barrus says state legislators play a critical role in working to strike the balance between wildlife protection and development.

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"You'd be hard-pressed to find a state legislator who wants to see the erosion of an ecosystem to the point that animals have to be listed on the endangered species list," Barrus says. "Most want to take a proactive stance and work to keep habitat healthy."

ENJOYING THE OUTDOORS

The responsibility to ensure that endangered animals, birds and plants are kept alive often rests with the state. Money from the federal government can help ease the costs of keeping these animals healthy and maintaining their habitats, but states are on the hook for paying most of the bills.

Fortunately, the great outdoors is big business. Revenue from hunting and fishing licenses provides about 75 percent of state wildlife management budgets. A comprehensive U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey found almost 88 million Americans enjoy wildlife-related recreation, which includes hunting, fishing and active wildlife watching. They spent more than $122 billion in 2006 on equipment, hotel rooms, licenses and other tourism-related expenses. Hunters alone contribute $4.2 billion in state and local taxes each year.

"Arguably we may be the only industry out there keeping some of these small communities going," says Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation. "We recognize that conservation is a must. Wildlife, water and other natural resources are non-renewable."

Hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts will have little reason to visit areas unless open space, natural ecosystems and wildlife are preserved. That's a key reason Crane's group recognizes the value of supporting state wildlife budgets through licensing fees.

"It's critical that states have the ability to provide adequate funding for wildlife management," he says. "Without conservation and preservation, our industry wouldn't be able to survive."

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NEW MONEY

Lawmakers in many states have tried to diversify the funding stream for these programs. Some states have added special license plates, such as Florida's Save the Manatee plate.

Increasing development, however, pushed Florida to think beyond license plates. In 2001, the Legislature passed Florida Forever. Funded through fees from real estate transactions, the program has spent $2.62 billion to protect 600,000 acres from development and to establish wildlife and open space protection. In 2009, the program suffered its first loss of funding.

Senator Paula Dockery backs the program and is concerned about funding cuts.

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