The Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources


The goal is innovative, game-changing thinking that will move forward a 21st century system of funding conservation that will produce both a rich and diverse conservation legacy and a vibrant economic future.

Under the leadership of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources co-chairs—Bass Pro Shops founder John L. Morris and former Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal—the panel will answer one of the most important questions facing fish and wildlife today…

What is the best and most equitable way to fund fish and wildlife conservation to ensure their sustainability?

For too many fish and wildlife and for Americans, we are failing in our custody to leave the next generation with healthier fish and wildlife populations than those we inherited.

A century ago, populations of wildlife prized by sportsmen and women were at all-time lows and in steep decline. Conservationists rallied to create a unique funding system that directed excise taxes paid by manufacturers of guns and ammunition (and later bows and arrows, fishing equipment and motor boat fuel) to state-based conservation of those species.

Today, these funds exceed $1 billion annually and the conservation supported by hunters, recreational shooters, anglers and boaters has brought many game species, such as deer and striped bass, back from the brink.

Yet, the job of securing a future for America’s wildlife is unfinished. Thousands of diverse fish and wildlife species that are neither hunted nor fished face declines similar to those experienced by game species 100 years ago. Existing funding sources are either ineligible or inadequate for the conservation of nongame species. Without action in the near future, a growing number could require protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, spurring additional regulation, increased compliance costs and more severe constraints on industries critical to the U.S. economy.

State fish and wildlife agencies are committed to working collaboratively to develop a path forward that both conserves the full array of fish and wildlife and provides certainty for natural resource-based enterprise. Conservation works, but only when we have the funding to do it. Previous attempts to secure dedicated funding for at-risk fish and wildlife have been unsuccessful.

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies is looking to its newly established Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources to reimagine a 21st century model of funding conservation that bridges the funding gap between game and nongame species and secures a future for diverse fish and wildlife and the economy.


In the early 1900s, many of the nation’s iconic game species such as wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, wood ducks, elk and striped bass were imperiled, with some at risk of extinction. In 1937, hunters and other conservationists rallied to support a new funding mechanism that dedicated proceeds from a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition (and later on bows and arrows, fishing equipment and boat fuel) to fund fish and wildlife conservation.

This user-pay system of conservation funding, known as the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program and the Boating Safety Trust Fund, has led to the dramatic turnaround in game populations that is considered one of the greatest conservation successes in the world.

Today, the excise taxes—not federal income taxes—support a $1 billion annual apportionment to state fish and wildlife agencies that is matched with license fees paid by hunters and anglers to provide state agencies with reliable and sustained funding for managing game species.

The manufacturers who pay the excise taxes and tens of millions of hunters and anglers who pay license fees benefit directly by having access to millions of acres of managed habitat and sustainable game populations for their pursuits. In turn, state fish and wildlife agencies govern a wildlife-related recreational enterprise that supports 1.5 million jobs, drives $86 billion in consumer spending and generates $26.7 billion in federal, state and local taxes annually.

There is a flip side to this success story. For the thousands of species under state management jurisdiction that are not hunted or fished, no comparable dedicated funding source is in place to support their conservation.

Without funding, only a fraction of these species are being actively conserved, while thousands slip through the cracks and face declining populations. Many are on a fast track for endangered species listings. In just the last five years alone, petitions for federal endangered species listing have increased by more than 1,000%. When listing occurs, regulatory uncertainty and conservation costs skyrocket.

The good news is that state agencies have had proven success in recovering and growing populations of targeted species through strategic investments in habitat conservation and science with what little funding they have for this kind of conservation.

Click here for a history of state nongame conservation funding.


WE BELIEVE America’s fish and wildlife are resources worth sustaining.

WE BELIEVE That the collaboration-not regulation-is the best path toward securing the future where fish and wildlife and natural resource-based enterprise thrive.

WE BELIEVE That it’s time to launch the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources.

WE BELIEVE That by working together, we can advance a solution for funding a 21st century model of conservation.

The number of species petitioned for federal endangered species listing has increased by more than 1,000% over the last five years and thousands of additional species could be listed in the coming years.

Blue Ribbon Panel Brochure.pdf1.06 MB