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Fish and Wildlife Trust Funds Threatened by Sequestration | The Wildlife Society News
2012 November Featured — December 10, 2012

Alpine lake fish survey funded as part of Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s statewide Sport Fish Restoration grant program (Credit – USFWS)

If Congress doesn’t pass a budget plan that addresses the deficit as specified by The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) automatic cuts, known as sequestration, will come into effect at the beginning of next year. Sequestration will cut many federal spending programs between 7.6and 9.2 percent.

The Wildlife Restoration, Sportfish Restoration and Boating Safety Trust Funds (hereafter Trust Funds) will have 7.6 percent of their funds sequestered, or withheld from distribution, a reduction of $31 million, $34 million, and $9 million, respectively. These funds, raised through excise taxes on hunting, fishing, and boating equipment and fuel do not go into the general treasury.  While the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) collects these taxes from manufacturers, they are required by law to distribute them to the states for specific purposes described in those laws. It is the states, not the federal government, who spend Trust fund money.

The Trust Funds are important sources of funding for state programs in fisheries and wildlife restoration and management; hunter, angler and boater access; and hunter and boater safety education. They are the cornerstone of the user-pay, public benefit system of fish and wildlife conservation. In order to qualify for grants from the Trust Funds, states must guarantee that all hunting and fishing license fees are spent exclusively on fish and wildlife management and restoration.

The BCA was designed to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years by setting automatic spending caps on federal spending. The law amends the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act of 1985, but did not amend the exemption for “payments to trust funds from excise taxes or other receipts properly creditable to such trust funds.” That exemption still stands, however, payments from such trust funds do not appear to be exempt. Therefore if sequestration occurs, FWS will continue to collect the full amount of excise taxes, but will be required to withhold 7.6 percent of the funds from distribution to the states unless Congress amends the BCA to also exempt appropriations from the Trust Funds.

This could result in some states losing up to $1 million dollars in 2013 for fish and wildlife restoration and management, and hunting, angling, boating and recreational shooting activities. According to the laws that govern the Trust Funds, such as the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, states are required to provide 25 percent matching funds to access the 75 percent from the Trust Funds.  States without the ability to rollover their matching funds from the FY2013 to FY2014 budgets may have difficulty raising their matching funds when the sequestered funds are released. According to the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, money in the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund that has not been used after 2 years reverts back to the FWS to carry out the provisions of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

The Trust Funds have distributed over $14 billion to the states since their inception with the (Pittman-Robertson) Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, the Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration Act of 1950, and its (Wallop-Breaux) Boating Trust Fund Amendment of 1984. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) says, “Sequestering the spending authority of these inviolable Trust Funds to states is a breach of faith [original emphasis] and violates the intent of the “user pays-public benefits” system of fish and wildlife conservation and access in the United States.”

Sources: AFWA, Arizona Game & Fish Department Oct 31,2012.

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