In late November, the Pennsylvania Chapter of Backcountry Hunters joined a coalition of hunting and angling groups to speak as one against proposed budget cuts that would have permanently altered funding for public land, clean water and a host of programs that benefit outdoor initiatives.
Led by our friends at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, we were joined in opposition to the measures by the American Woodcock Society, Chesapeake Council of Fly Fishers International, Delaware Valley Fly Fishers, Ducks Unlimited, Fly Fishers International, National Deer Alliance, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, Ruffed Grouse Society, Safari Club International and Trout Unlimited. Ultimately the joint efforts of the hunting and angling community to speak out made an 11th hour difference and the funds were left intact.
The cuts were was aimed at removing dedicated funding from two bedrock funding programs: the Keystone Recreation Park & Conservation Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund, also known as Growing Greener. These special funds have fueled conservation projects across the state for 20 years using a portion of the realty transfer tax and a landfill tipping fee. They are crucial to ensuring quality opportunities for Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers by helping communities and organizations improve stream quality, public land access and wildlife conservation now and for the future. In addition, the Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund leverage local, federal, and privately raised dollars to amplify their impacts on the ground. As much as $4 in additional outside funding is raised for every $1 from these state funds. Cutting these funds mean unplugging the power on projects across the commonwealth and forgoing resources these state dollars harness and bring back to Pennsylvania.
The funds are a cog in Pennsylvania’s state outdoor recreation economy — a strong and growing $27 billion industry that supports our largest cities, smallest towns and everything in between.
The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources estimates that our state parks and forests are operating with a $1 billion maintenance backlog. The commonwealth faces a $324 million gap in funding needed to meet our 2025 EPA water quality goals as a part of the Chesapeake Bay Program. For decades, the Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund have helped to narrow these gaps, putting local companies to work in the process.
Public lands and waters have always been important, but the Covid-19 pandemic has proven they are essential. With public land usage up over 100 percent in many PA parks and forests and outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, boating, birdwatching and hiking seeing significant rises in participation, we should be pouring more dollars into conservation, access and maintenance, not less.
Pennsylvania BHA and our partners will remain vigilant in 2021 and beyond to protect our key conservation funding sources.
Click here to watch a short video on the funding issue created by TRCP featuring PA BHA Chair Nate Fronk and his wife, Holly.