Investing in conservation

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 8, 2011

By Lloyd Goode
For the Salisbury Post
North Carolinaís state parks, game lands, wildlife refuges, trout streams and other outdoor recreation areas generate billions of dollars in economic activity every year. The stateís investments in conserving these vital natural resources over the past two decades have paid huge economic dividends. Unfortunately, funding for conservation in the state has decreased more than 50 percent in the past few years, and legislators are considering further cuts this year. While it is understandable that the state must tighten its belt, additional cuts endanger valuable projects that are creating jobs and economic activity.
Conservation in North Carolina, and across the country, pays for itself through the economic return from hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Fish and wildlife recreation generates $4.3 billion with 3.4 million participants annually in North Carolina fishing and wildlife viewing.
Seven years ago, North Carolina Ducks Unlimited initiated a program to protect these valuable lands. We set a fundraising goal of $27 million to conserve 70,000 acres in North Carolina and on the breeding grounds important to our state. The Sound CARE (Conservation of Agriculture, Resources and the Environment) initiative was the first of its kind for Ducks Unlimited (DU) ń a comprehensive state campaign that included all sources of revenue raised in the state for waterfowl and wetlands conservation.
The fledgling program was a tremendous success. Through the efforts of the more than 26,000 DU members in North Carolina, the Sound CARE program conserved 35,120 acres in North Carolina and 47,354 acres in the breeding grounds that benefit the state. Every effort associated with this initiative was an investment ó made possible through a combination of private, state and federal funding ó in the future of wildlife and outdoor recreation in North Carolina.
Today, state funding is in jeopardy of being substantially reduced by the North Carolina General Assembly. Budget cuts could imperil the partnerships that are essential to conservation of waterfowl populations and the future of the waterfowl hunting tradition in North Carolina and North America.
Hunting and fishing are just a part of the return on the stateís investment in conservation.
The Trust for Public Land recently released a study that shows for every $1 invested by the stateís conservation trust funds, North Carolinians receive a $4 return for natural goods and services ó things like drinking water protection, cleaner air and flood control. Thatís a conservative figure. The full economic payoff is even greater when considering the significant benefits of land and water conservation on the agricultural, tourism, recreational and military industries, which were not calculated in the report. Those additional benefits were underscored by last monthís announcement that tourism in North Carolina generated a record $17 billion in 2010. A significant portion of that spending is generated by the millions of visitors who come to enjoy our state parks, beaches and outdoor recreation areas.
For generations, North Carolinians have recognized the value of our stateís unique natural beauty. Our traditions of hunting and fishing have kept us connected to the land from the mountains to the coast. The need for conservation is even written into the state constitution. Conservation creates jobs, often in rural areas of the state that need jobs the most.
Finding ways to reduce the budget deficit simply must be done. But in doing so, letís make sure to support the stateís investments that pay for themselves several times over. We need to let our legislators know that conservation funding has been cut enough and urge them to maintain level funding.

Lloyd Goode is regional vice president of Ducks Unlimited.