California Budget Makes Way for Wildlife

Wildlife got a big boost in Governor Jerry Brown’s last proposed budget for California. This week in his 2018–19 proposed budget, the governor included a significant increase in funding for California’s wildlife — the largest increase in a stable, ongoing funding source for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in recent memory. This money is critical for California to manage its diverse and fragile fish and wildlife resources.

The Problem

A historical underinvestment in the conservation and management of California’s wildlife.

California is the most biologically diverse and rich landscape in the contiguous United States. From the rugged and majestic coastline to the expanse of the Central Valley to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, California enjoys an amazing diversity of species and ecosystems. California has more native species than any other state in the U.S. and has the greatest number of endemic species that don’t occur anywhere else in the world.

Our wildlife, and the habitats in which they live, provide significant economic benefits through recreation, tourism and commercial harvest as well as ecological services such as pollination, clean water and flood protection. Good stewardship of these natural resources benefits all of us now and will continue to benefit humankind into the future.

Good stewardship, however, requires investment into CDFW, which is the state department charged with the enormous responsibility of protecting our public trust resources. As noted in a 2009 report to the California state legislature, California’s natural resources responsibilities include:

  • A land area of 100 million acres
  • 1,100 miles of coastline (with management and enforcement out to 3 miles at sea), 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, 4,800 lakes and reservoirs, 80 major rivers, three of the four North American desert habitats, and pristine mountain peaks
  • More than 750 native fish and wildlife species
  • More than 6,000 native plant species
  • Nearly 350 threatened or endangered species
  • More than 2.7 million acres of wildlife areas, ecological reserves, and units of the state park system
  • Responsibility for oil spills and pollution in all state waters (coastal and inland)
  • A human population approaching 39 million which dramatically affects the use and conservation of these resources

CDFW’s tasks include issuing fishing and hunting licenses, educating the public, protecting endangered and threatened species, managing commercial and recreational fisheries sustainably, managing nearly a million acres of land and safeguarding the state’s natural heritage for the future.

While CDFW has a herculean responsibility before it, the department has been chronically underfunded for decades. As noted by stakeholders, including Defenders, involved with the 2011–12 Strategic Vision effort undertaken by the CDFW “while there appears to be near universal recognition that CDFW and [the Fish and Game Commission] do not have the resources they need, increasing funding is politically challenging. There is a need to both review the adequacy/appropriateness of existing funding streams and broaden the base of funding for CDFW to include additional funding to include all who benefit from CDFW’s programs.”

Compounding the problem of lack of funding is the stark reality that the Trump administration and Congress are working to weaken or eliminate bedrock federal environmental laws as well as a cutting or gutting of federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS). This change in previously relied upon conservation protection and partnership at the federal level is putting more pressure on the state to serve as a backstop against diminished federal environmental protections. Proper funding for CDFW to protect California’s diverse natural resources has become even more critical.

The Solution

Increase Ongoing Stable Funding

For several years, Defenders has been working to fix the long-term structural imbalance between the CDFW’s mandated responsibilities and the limited and unreliable funding it receives to do its work. Last year, Governor Brown’s budget highlighted the “importance of long-term sustainable funding in a state that has more biodiversity than any other.” While last year’s budget did not include a long-term fix for the department, the Legislature, at Defenders’ urging, directed CDFW to re-convene the Strategic Plan stakeholders to work on improving funding to manage and protect California’s precious coast, lands, parks and wildlife for the future. Based on this work, CDFW issued a report in October 2017 detailing the progress made on the Strategic Plan and the need to address the funding shortfall. [Specifically, in collaboration with the stakeholders, CDFW also issued a funding plan outlining four critical areas in which new stable funding of at least $100 million could, and should, be directed: (1) Expansion of Conservation Efforts; (2) Improvement in Hunting and Fishing; (3) Connecting more Californians to the Outdoors; and (4) Increased Stability and Services (including improved wildlife trafficking enforcement).

What was missing in this work by CDFW and the stakeholders was an agreement as to where the funding would come from. When Governor Brown issued his proposed budget this week, he provided an answer to at least half of the funding need: $50.6 million of new funding would be infused into CDFW’s budget, mainly from transportation-related funding sources with a clear connection to fish and wildlife. This funding is proposed as an ongoing funding source that will persist beyond this budget instead of a one-time infusion of money. Because roads and cars have had a devastating impact on wildlife and habitat, directing a tiny portion of transportation related funding to fish and wildlife conservation makes a lot of sense for drivers as well as for conservation. A 2016 UC Davis Road Ecology Center report estimates the cost of wildlife-vehicle conflicts to be at least $225 million annually. This report cites data showing that nearly 6,000 traffic incidents involved wildlife in 2015 alone. Further, road networks around the state have fragmented and isolated habitats, severely impacting fish and wildlife populations.

The Governor’s proposal of $50.6 million in new funding will benefit several important conservation issues:

  1. Managing and Recovering Declining Wildlife: $6.3 million for increased science to assess the status of threatened and endangered species, additional conservation and recovery efforts for declining wildlife, and the identification of important connectivity areas to protect and restore.
  2. Salmon Conservation: $6.2 million for salmon and steelhead conservation and management at a time when California’s fisheries are in steep decline and in dire need of additional protections and management.
  3. Marine Fisheries Management: $8.4 million for marine fisheries management including addressing the problem of whale and other marine mammal entanglements in fishing gear.
  4. Law Enforcement: $8.6 million and 16 new wardens to protect California’s wildlife, including combatting illegal wildlife trafficking.
  5. Supporting Healthy Fish and Wildlife and Getting More People Outdoors: $20 million to fix the existing structural imbalance in this fund for the benefit of numerous fish and wildlife conservation and management programs, including migratory birds, state wildlife areas, and native fisheries, and programs to get more Californians outdoors. The Fish and Game Preservation Fund is CDFW’s largest single fund source and has been running at a deficit with not enough fees generated from hunting, fishing and other permitted activities to keep up with the demand for the programs it funds.

Next Steps

How will Defenders be working to make sure the Governor’s funding proposal for fish and wildlife will become a reality?

The Governor’s budget proposal is only the first step in a six-month process to get to a final state budget for 2018–19. Defenders will be working with our partners in the Legislature to ensure that this sizable and important new funding proposal will become a reality. During the next six months, the Legislature will be holding hearings and then voting in June on a final budget. We will be working to generate support among our elected officials through education, constant presence in the State Capitol, public support from our members and we will be organizing a broad coalition of stakeholders. At a time when much of the news about wildlife conservation has focused on defending existing protections from federal efforts to gut our laws, California has an opportunity to show that our state refuses to go backwards and is instead moving forward with a commitment to protect our wildlife for future generations.

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