Federal Budget Sequestration and Its Impact on Americas Fish and Wildlife Resources

In August of 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 aimed at cutting the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years by mandating automatic spending caps on the federal government’s nondefense-related, mandatory and discretionary spending – known as sequestration. This legislation requires that 7.6% of the nation’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Safety Trust Funds – collectively called the Trust Funds – be “sequestered” or withheld from distribution to the states. The Trust Funds are the lifeblood of state fish and wildlife agencies’ day-to-day operating budgets and are used to restore and manage fisheries and wildlife and their habitats; open and maintain recreational access to these and other areas (including shooting ranges); and deliver hunter and boating safety education.

By withholding 7.6% of these Trust Funds, the Budget Control Act of 2011 will adversely affect states’ ability to manage their fish and wildlife resources in the public interest and cut millions of dollars available for fish, wildlife and habitat conservation and hunting, angling, boating and recreational shooting activities in each state. The Wildlife Restoration, Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Safety Trust Funds will see a reduction of $31 million, $34 million and $9 million respectively. Some states will lose more than $1 million from their operating budgets due to sequestration in 2013. Each state fish and wildlife agency and boating administrator will have to determine where to make cuts to balance their reduced budgets if budget sequestration as written takes effect. At risk are applied fish and wildlife research; public access to Wildlife Management Areas; fish hatcheries and fish stocking programs; hunter safety and education courses; boating safety and education courses; and the development and operation of shooting ranges. Additionally, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration laws require states to provide a 25% non-federal, state-funded match to receive the 75% allocated from their Trust Funds. If annual Trust Funds are withheld from apportionment and “banked,” states may not be able to raise the significant match or have carry-forward spending authority when the funds are released.

State agencies and boating administrators spend Trust Fund dollars, not the federal government. Agencies of the federal government serve as the pass-through mechanism for distributing Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Safety funds to state fish and wildlife agencies. Members of the wildlife, hunting, fishing, boating and conservation community and industry agree that sequestering the spending authority of these inviolable Trust Funds to states is a breach of faith and violates the intent of the “user-pays, public-benefits” system of fish and wildlife conservation and access in the U.S.

If Congress doesn’t pass a budget plan that addresses the deficit, sequestration will come into effect at the beginning of the next year. Please contact your Congressmen today and urge them to work on a budget plan before the end of the 112th Congress. CSF will keep you appraised as efforts to protect state fish and wildlife agency conservation funding move forward.

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