Well, Mr. Kennedy (who is running for the Senate) has a new item on his list of spending priorities. He now wants to pump $400 million over ten years into the current Federal Duck Stamps Program because it is not buying up enough wetlands for preservation. In a letter to his colleagues, he writes:
Our country is facing a growing wetlands crisis. More than 50 percent of our nation’s wetlands have already been lost, and some states have lost as much as 90 percent of their wetlands critical for waterfowl and wildlife habitat.
The best way we can help address this situation is to invest more into our Duck Stamp program. The Federal Duck Stamp program is the most successful conservation program in the country. Over the years, Federal Duck Stamps helped purchase or lease over 5.2 million acres of wetlands and waterfowl habitat in the U.S. In addition, for every dollar spent on Federal Duck Stamps, ninety-eight cents go directly to purchase and protect vital wetlands and wildlife habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The Federal Duck Stamp program is largely paid for by sportsmen and women. However, because the number of hunters in the U.S. has remained relatively static while the price of land is on the rise, we are no longer able to purchase the necessary lands to preserve the habitat needed for wildlife production. This is a situation that we cannot afford if we want future generations to continue to enjoy the great outdoors.
To address this problem, we have introduced H.R. 4315, the Kennedy-Thompson Emergency Wetlands Loan Act of 2005. This bill would increase resources for wetlands preservation by reauthorizing the Wetlands Loan Act at $400 million over the next 10 years.
To match the challenge of habitat preservation, the bill includes an incremental increase of the price of the duck stamp that is explicitly tied to the repayment of the loan without disrupting the current dollars in the duck stamp program. With these provisions, H.R. 4315 provides a fiscally responsible approach and recreates the kind of public-private partnership that has been the hallmark of successful wildlife conservation programs for decades.
Mr. Kennedy wants to increase spending now to buy up wetlands (“as an advance”) and pay for it later with an incremental increase in duck stamps that may or may not be bought, especially since they will now cost more. In theory, the new stamp revenues will then be “credited” to the loan. Talk about a fake offset. For the record, this is a perfect example of why conservatives ought to be extremely suspicious of these special stamp tax programs at their inception. Eventually, the “need” for the spending outpaces the zeal of the stamp purchasers, causing a “shortfall” with a ready-made constituency for additional federal spending. Also, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, since 1934, duck stamps have generated $670 million and purchased 5.2 million acres of wetlands. Kennedy wants to spend an additional $400 million in just ten years! Exactly how many additional acres of wetlands does the federal government need to purchase? And with 653 million acres already (28% of the country), doesn’t the federal government own enough land? Enough is enough.