An undated photo of a hunter using binoculars to scope Utah land for wildlife. Utah is slated to receive over $28 million in new federal funds for wildlife and fishing programs. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is about to receive a sizable amount of new funds toward fish and wildlife conservation.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday announced a record $1.5 billion funding to help support state and local outdoor recreational opportunities and conservation efforts. A little over $28.3 million of that is headed to the Beehive State.
The money comes from taxes collected on recreational equipment sales — as outlined for years by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act — as well as additional money added through more recent Great American Outdoors Act and infrastructure spending bill.
The new bills are why this year’s spending dwarfs the $32.8 million allocated to states during the 2020 federal fiscal year. About $25.5 billion has been disbursed to states over the 85-year history of the hunting and fishing acts, the Department of Interior added.
This year’s announcement came while Department of Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau attended the Mule Deer Foundation’s inaugural summit held Friday at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. In a statement, Beaudreau said the additional federal funding on top of the traditional funding help “make significant progress in our work to protect our cherished wild treasures.”
“This is an investment that will allow us to conserve public lands for outdoor recreation enthusiasts and wildlife lovers alike,” Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland added in a tweet.
Utah is slated to receive nearly $21 million in funds toward wildlife-related projects and another $7.3 million toward sportfish projects, according to documents posted online Friday. Those allocations can go toward projects that restore, conserve, manage and enhance habitats for birds, mammals and fish. It’s significantly more than when the Beehive State received $344,937 in similar grants in 2020.
Martha Williams, the principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said money from the grants goes to state agencies for programs that help restore and protect animal habitats, acquire land and water rights to improve habitats, educate hunters and anglers and improve access to hunting and fishing.
“Everyone benefits from these investments, which have ensured a legacy of wildlife and outdoor opportunities for all,” she added, in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources told KSL.com that the division is still pouring over the details of the allotment, so it’s too early to know how that money will be used.
But Friday’s announcement was well-received at the summit. The event brought experts to discuss ways to address the myriad issues hindering mule deer populations in the West, from climate change to new land development.
And to put the new federal funding into context, the foundation has raised nearly $10 million toward habitat restoration over the past two years — with close to another $35.8 million offered by partner companies and agencies. While that’s a fraction of the new funding, the foundation’s money resulted in habitat restoration projects across a total of 264,685 acres.
Joel Pedersen, the president and CEO of the organization, said this year’s federal funding money is an amount “none of us have ever seen in our lifetimes” and may never see again. It matches his belief that more is needed to ramp up the scale of habitat restoration from 10-, 100- or 1,000-acre projects, to efforts much larger than that.
“We need to have good strategies put together for how we take advantage of that funding,” Pedersen said, “and put it to work for deer and wildlife in our Western landscapes. … (We) need to think of 100,000-acre projects or 1 million-acre project areas if we’re going to make a difference over the long term.”