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Reeling in wildlife funding dollars

March 10, 2011

Before the raucous rally outside City Hall where Providence teachers and union leaders chanted slogans and excoriated the mayor for all those pink slips.

Before the Providence mayor held a press conference in his office choked with reporters barking out questions in response to a budget filled with staggering numbers.

Before all of that screamed for our attention, U.S. Senator Jack Reed held a roundtable with state environmental officials at such a low volume that reporters in the room strained to hear the discussion.

Quietly, but passionately, Fish and Wildlife officials outlined for the senator how hunting and fishing help fill the state coffers at very little expense to Rhode Islanders.

Acting chief of Fish and Wildlife, Robert Ballou says every year some 50,000 freshwater fishermen stake out their spot and cast their line while pumping about $25.6 million directly into the state’s economy.

The saltwater fishermen, there are about 150,000 thousand of them in Rhode Island, injecting some $157 million into the economy.

Away from shore, 14,000 hunters a year generate nearly $14 million into the economy.

Fishing and hunting doesn’t come with the hype of a video game venture or the glamour of television and movie production. It also doesn’t come with tax incentives. Instead, a tax on hunting and fishing gear goes into a special, federal fund (that may be the closest thing to Al Gore’s  “lock box”) designated for replenishing fish populations and restoring wildlife preserves across the country.

These dollars bankroll about 70 percent of Rhode Island Fish and Wildlife’s nearly $9.2 million budget. As Ballou puts it, this is a circular funding system where the user pays and the user benefits. Though in the end, we all benefit from restored shorelines, fish populations and acres of public wildlife areas.

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