10/07/2014 10:02 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2014

Finding Funding for Our Nation's Wildlife

Our nation has a tremendous conservation history. We have created a national park system that is the envy of the world; we have a national wildlife refuge system that spans more than 150 million acres; we have thoughtful laws like the Endangered Species Act that step in when wildlife becomes imperiled and needs help to recover. And we have hunting and fishing regulations that keep our game species safe from overharvesting.

Wildlife conservation laws and regulations only cover about 5 percent of the species that need our help. Urgent work remains to manage and safeguard the 95 percent of all species that are neither hunted nor fished. These species continue to fall through the cracks until they are in trouble and then it takes more resources, more funding and more cooperation to try to bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Today, state fish and wildlife agencies receive the majority of their budgets from taxes on hunting and fishing gear and licenses. Consequently, these agencies have focused their work on management for game species of interest to hunters and fishers. We need to find expanded funding for the states so that they can pay as much attention to the rest of the wildlife within their borders as they do to those that are hunted and fished.

That's where a new blue ribbon panel on sustaining America's diverse fish and wildlife resources is stepping in. This coalition of state fish and wildlife agencies, outdoor recreation retail and manufacturers, the energy industry and sportsmen and conservation organizations have banded together to chart a new course for funding wildlife conservation for the rest of the species in the United States.

Developing a model for funding the conservation of all species so they never need the rescue efforts provided by the Endangered Species Act is a worthy goal. Regional models have been successful, such as license plate funds that go to the conservation of Florida black bears, moose in Maine and the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. State wildlife action plans and grant programs also help; but their funding has been cut by Congress in recent years. At this point we need to think bigger and broader.

Conservation is not altruistic. When we conserve our nation's wildlife and lands we are protecting ourselves and enriching our own lives. Our quality of life is tied to their health and wellbeing -- everyone benefits through the vast recreational opportunities, healthy landscapes, free flowing waterways and diverse and abundant wildlife. These resources belong to all of us. That means we all have a responsibility to contribute to their conservation.

Beyond that, protecting our nation's natural treasures brings money into communities. In 2011, wildlife related recreation totaled $145 billion nationally; of that, wildlife watchers spent $55 billion. That's one percent of the nation's gross domestic product.

Budgets are extremely tight on the federal and the state level these days, so we need to find more sources of funding for these other species and the habitats they need to survive and thrive. Conservation of our nation's fish and wildlife heritage should be the focused goal of this blue ribbon panel effort, not avoiding federal regulations, dismissing what science is telling us, or lamenting the increasing numbers of species that are facing imperilment in our country. Finding ways for all of us to contribute to the conservation of our nation's wildlife is an important next step in our country's conservation history. Let's create a new conservation legacy and vibrant economic future for ourselves and those who follow.