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Groups Seek to Control State Wildlife Funding

Western Watersheds Project & Wyoming Wildlife Advocates join others in pushing federal oversight of state wildlife policy.

Roughly one-quarter of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WG&F) revenue used to protect and conserve the state’s fish and wildlife is generated through Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-John funds. According to WG&F, these revenues are generated by excise taxes paid by the hunting, shooting, boating and angling industries on firearms, bows, ammunition, sport fishing tackle, some boat engines and small engine fuel. The amount of money allocated is based, in part, on the number of licensed anglers and hunters a state has, and each state must provide a 25 percent match. In 2019, the Wyoming received $17 million, $16 million in 2020, and nearly $12 million in 2021 from these excise taxes.

A coalition of animal activists now propose that the U.S. Department of the Interior withhold these user-generated revenues from the states if those states “undermine federal goals.”

According to the petition filed with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, these funds “should only be entrusted to states that have demonstrated their commitment to conservation of all wildlife, including natural predator/prey balances of ecosystems.”

While the petition calls out wolf management and predator control programs (claiming, for example, “In most cases, the practice of predator control is scientifically unjustified, ecologically damaging, unacceptable to the public…”), it is specifically worded so that it applies to all wildlife in a state.

The groups want the Interior Department to create new federal rules that would incorporate an annual public comment period before the states could receive the funds, “to allow stakeholders who have been traditionally marginalized – including Tribes, subsistence users, tourism and watchable wildlife interests, independent scientists and the conservation community” to be involved.

The annual public comment period would seek comments “as to whether the State has authorized practices that threaten the healthy population of any wildlife or substantially interferes with the natural predator-prey relationship. Based upon the public comment, the Secretary shall make a finding as to whether the State has enabled such practices, which would make it ineligible for benefits of the Acts.”

The groups note that such an action is needed, “to cope with attempts by legislatures to override state and federal species protection programs and to address rogue state game programs that do not protect sustainable, healthy wildlife populations.”

Under a section of the petition entitled “States fail to support federal protection for predators,” the petitioners wrote: “Under recent administrations, the FWS under the Department of Interior (DOI) has surrendered federal primacy in wildlife management and deferred to state game rules.”

Later in the petition, under the header “system-wide guidance is needed,” the petitioners wrote: “Wildlife habitats are not confined to state boundaries. Though each state manages fish and wildlife not on federal lands within their own borders, the floor for management is determined by federal law and regulation. There is an overriding federal interest in ensuring that state game agencies that do not meet this science-based threshold do not benefit from federal funding from the Acts.”

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