Thursday, January 31, 2013

Conservation as a constitutional right

Taking a new tack on conservation, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and eight other sporting groups are telling budget-minded state legislators it's a constitutional requirement.

"North Carolina's sporting community looks forward to working with the new General Assembly to uphold the state constitution by preserving our state's natural assets," the groups say in a full-page ad in Wednesday's News & Observer.

The Charlotte-based Federation, which paid for the ad, quotes a 1971 legislative addition to the constitution that says it's a state function to "acquire and preserve park, recreational and scenic areas, (and) to control and limit the pollution of our air and water."

Legislators beginning the year's session this week will get copies of the ad and a resolution from the Wildlife Federation urging them to increase funding for the beleaguered Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which has been North Carolina's biggest source of conservation grants. Legislators last year slashed its funding to $10.7 million, 90 percent below its historic high, and made it a non-recurring budget item.

The Fund has helped create hundreds of thousands of state gamelands, said Federation CEO Tim Gestwicki, boosting a state hunting and fishing industry worth $3.3 billion a year in revenue.

"Many of the legislators are new, so we wanted to take this opportunity to let them know just how important land and water conservation is," Gestwicki said. "They are going to face some tough decisions, but this isn't one of them."