Conservation’s Hemorrhaging Pocketbook
Taniya Bethke, 2017 Master Naturalist Class
My name is Taniya Bethke and I am a member of the 2017 class of North Texas Master Naturalists. I moved from Dallas to Pierre, South Dakota in pursuit of a statewide education position with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks in June of 2017. My husband and I followed the Blackland Prairie all the way north, and it was a truly fantastic experience. The prairie still connects us to our roots in Texas, which is reassuring considering South Dakota is one of five states that does not have a Master Naturalist chapter. (I hope to remedy this issue!) I think fondly of my Master Naturalist friends and the time we spent finding the magical parts of Dallas. I also think frequently of our classes, which left quite an impression on me.
One of the classes that stands out firmly in my memory is the one on policy and regulation. I remember sitting in the basement of the Ag Extension office watching a woman from Parks and Wildlife describe how conservation efforts across the nation are funded through the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration funds. These pots of money are fed into by the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and excise taxes on hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting equipment. I remember thinking, holy buckets! Conservation rides on the backs of hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters. I don’t do any of those things!! I am an avid camper, hiker, bird nerd, and kayaker, but none of those things generate funds to support conservation! I was flabbergasted at the time, and a bit disappointed. I felt like consumptive users had the only say in what happened to my precious lakes, animals, forests, and prairies.
Little did I know at the time that my new position in South Dakota would give me a close-up view of conservation funding, how it is used by state agencies, and the current challenges conservationists are facing as funding from sources like hunting dwindle. Among my supervision of two outdoor campuses, the statewide aquatic education program, and hunter education program, I am also our state’s R3 Coordinator. The R3 movement stands for hunter Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation and is centered on the premise that the generations of yesteryear that grew up baptized in camouflage and deer season openers are aging out of the sport. As baby boomers enter the 65-and-up club, their participation and associated license and equipment dollars are going the way of the dodo. Funding for conservation is set to sharply decline for this reason in the coming decade.
What the research also indicates is that subsequent generations are not participating in hunting at the same rate. We have a new generation that has a mutualistic relationship with nature, who did not grow up hunting and fishing, and who value first and foremost, non-consumptive uses of the resources such as hiking, camping, and kayaking. The R3 movement is designed to recruit this new generation into hunting, fishing and shooting sports.
One of the values that R3 gurus tend to leverage is the newfound love for quality, organic, locally-sourced, ethically harvested meat that was raised as free-range as you can get. I have to admit, this is what inspired me personally to buy my 20-gauge shotgun, named Vera, and begin harvesting my own game birds to feed my family. Having an excuse to spend days taking long walks with Vera in the remotest of places on the open prairie, gazing at the sky, plants, birds, and feeling the breeze on my face was some pretty delicious icing on the cake, regardless of whether I came home with a full game bag or not. But, I digress.
So, here we stand. R3 coordinators are marketing to new audiences, leveraging new values, and tapping into new resources in order to make hunting, fishing and shooting sports as sexy as they once were. But what if that’s not enough? What if hipsters in camo skinny jeans and vintage hunting vests don’t stem the hemorrhaging of conservation funding? What if women, rocking out in the recently agency-approved (yet remarkably gimmicky) new “blaze pink” field camo don’t make up for the number of expiring baby boomers? What if Average Joe who didn’t grow up hunting or fishing, suddenly wants to feed his family locally sourced meat, but there just aren’t enough Average Joes out there? What then?
This is where some states have come bursting out of the box, with varying levels of success. For instance, Georgia has proposed The Outdoor Stewardship Act (House Bill 332) which would have the potential to collect 75% of the annual tax revenue collected on the sale of outdoor recreation equipment and dedicate it to protection and preservation of conservation land. That bill has yet to pass, but will be renewed for consideration in the 2018 legislative session.
The next questions I have fall on you, fellow outdoor enthusiasts. What would you be willing to do in order to make sure funding for our precious resources continues? Perhaps you are already a hunter, angler or recreational shooter and currently pay into conservation funding through those avenues; would you be willing to mentor a new recreationist to make sure the tradition continues?
Are you a non-consumptive user? If so, are you content with consumptive users being the primary stakeholders in conservation decisions? Would you be willing to buy a “birding” or “kayaking” license to pay into a conservation fund? What about paying a small tax on outdoor gear that would contribute to conservation funding? Is there another solution you see that is not being considered? I want to know your thoughts and reflections.
Please email me your thoughts at Taniya.Bethke@state.sd.us. And if you do happen to love blaze pink and camo skinny jeans, please feel free to call and grouse about it.
In summary- the resources we love? Precious. The funding for them? Complicated. The future? Uncertain. And so I am left with the words of Dr. Seuss rattling around in my head. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”- Dr. Seuss
Editor’s note about conservation funding in Texas:
Aside from the federal funds outlined above, sources of conservation funding in Texas come from programs like conservation license plates [https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/about/] and paid participation in events like the Great Texas Birding Classic, which raises a significant amount of money and donates proceeds to habitat conservation projects in Texas. For more information, please go here:
Non-hunters can also purchase Federal Duck Stamps, which raise funds for habitat conservation for waterfowl. The stamp is good for “free entry” into national wildlife refuges. For more information, please go here: