Question: Do Defenders of Wildlife and the National Rifle Association ever agree on anything?
Answer: Yes. At each annual strategy meeting of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) since 1995, Defenders and the NRA have agreed on the precise number of dollars Congress should allocate to the next years National Wildlife Refuge System operations and maintenance budget.
CARE is an umbrella group of 22 politically diverse nonprofit organizations that support funding for national wildlife refuges. It is 100 percent budgetoriented.
We dont weigh in on policy priorities or specific programmatic priorities or anything of that nature, says Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, which chairs CARE. The only reason the CARE group works is that were advocating for one single number for operations and maintenance funding.
CAREs member organizations realize that, regarding the Refuge System budget, we need to increase the size of the loaf and not fight over the leftovers, so that all interests are well served, says the NRAs Susan Recce. The hunting community has been tied at the hip with the Refuge System since the days of Teddy Roosevelt.
Defenders belongs to CARE because sound management of the National Wildlife Refuge System is a top priority for wildlife conservation in our nation. Without adequate funding, the Refuge System cannot meet its mission, says Defenders Mary Beth Beetham. When members of Congress see a coalition of groups that dont often agree on other issues, it sends a powerful message on the importance of the common goal being advanced. This is especially true in this time of sharp polarization on so many issues.
CARE was founded in the mid1990sbefore the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, which identified the Big Six priority public uses. Today we just take it for granted that the hookandbullet crowd and the environmental crowd are aligned around conservation interests, says Hirsche, but at that time, not so much. And so you had a number of these organizations that didnt play particularly well in the sandbox.
Now, as CARE members, they meet monthly and they get alongto refuges immense benefit.
Asked to cite CAREs major accomplishments, Hirsche and Refuge Association colleague Desiree SorensonGroves point out that in fiscal 1994 the Refuge System budget was roughly $166 million; in 2012 it is $485.7 million.
So you can see after the CARE group forms, gets organized, starts collaborating with Fish and Wildlife in documenting costs, suddenly we see a radical uptick in funding beginning in 1998, says Hirsche, who also credits Friends advocacy for the monetary increase.
Hirsche and SorensonGroves mention more specialized budgetary successes, toosuch as the roles CARE and Friends groups have played in pushing for Refuge System natural disaster damages (particularly since Hurricane Katrina in 2005) and for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for refuge construction projects.
And SorensonGroves highlights a spillover benefit.
Because of the questions that CARE has asked in trying to get at the right answers, we have helped you, the Fish and Wildlife Service, have a better idea of your own needs, she says. That is one of the biggest things that I think weve done.