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Here's the latest for Monday, September 19th: Hurricane Maria moving through eastern Caribbean; Trump to address UN General Assembly; North Korean Foreign Minister heading to UN; Protest outside St. Louis jail. AP

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Despite being the most densely populated state in the nation, New Jersey is also one of the most biologically diverse, thanks to our geographical location encompassing both “northern” and “southern” species, as well as hundreds of miles of coastline and unique regions like the Pinelands. We are a state that hosts an impressive range of fish and wildlife, and we have a history dating to Colonial times of protecting it. Many species so closely tied to our natural heritage, however, are declining, prompting a critical need for Congress to approve increased federal funding for state-led conservation efforts.

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Nearly two decades ago, Congress created the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program with a mission to prevent endangered species listings. Under this program, the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife and agencies from the other 49 states develop individualized State Wildlife Action Plans outlining a path to prevent future species decline. These plans are created in collaboration with scientists, landowners, conservation groups, the outdoor recreation community and a variety of businesses. Helping species before their populations become rare is essential.

Prior to this program, the U.S. primarily relied on the landmark Endangered Species Act, which saved thousands of species after they reached endangered status. Along with saving our nation’s symbol, the bald eagle, this act launched “emergency room” habitat and nesting-restoration efforts in New Jersey that brought the osprey, whose population dwindled to a mere 50 nests in the state by 1974, back from the brink within a decade’s time. As impressive as these last-ditch efforts were, preventing these scenarios is certainly preferable and far less expensive.

Unfortunately, the State Wildlife Grant program is underfunded, receiving less than 5 percent of what is needed to protect the 12,000 species in need of conservation action nationwide. New Jersey’s share of this funding, approximately $1 million a year, cannot properly support our identified 657 species of greatest conservation need. Many at-risk, priority species, such as the American kestrel, bog turtle and northern metalmark butterfly, benefit from ongoing projects implemented through this critical grant program. These efforts could be amplified with improved resources, benefitting not only wildlife but taxpayers as well.

Investing funding on the front end for preventative actions relieves taxpayers when expensive recovery actions are not needed. Existing revenues from our nonrenewable natural resources as a funding source can provide this funding with no tax increases. Conserving wildlife not only preserves our state heritage, but also is in our economic interest. In New Jersey, an estimated 2.4 million anglers, hunters and wildlife-watchers annually spend $2.3 billion on wildlife-related recreation. New Jersey’s outdoor recreation economy, which wildlife certainly enhances, generates 143,000 jobs and $18.9 billion in consumer spending. It makes sense on many levels to invest in wildlife before they reach the point of no return.

State agencies have a proven track record of using conservation funds wisely and effectively. The Pittman-Robertson Act and the Dingell-Johnson Act established America as a leader in the conservation of game species by granting capacity to states. One amazing success story for game species here in New Jersey is wild turkey recovery. Once extinct in the state because of habitat changes and over-hunting, they are now thriving at a population around 23,000 — resulting from a 1977 project involving the release of 22 birds.

Without dedicated funding, many species will face increasing risks. Species that capture the character and inspiring history of our nation. This includes the peregrine falcon, a raptor capable of reaching speeds over 200 mph in hunting dives, for which funding is needed in order to modernize nest monitoring and continue the species’ path to recovery from endangered status in New Jersey. We need to address America’s wildlife crisis through increasing proactive conservation funding that is good for wildlife, good for taxpayers and good for business. New Jersey Audubon is calling on our congressional leaders to do just that.

Eric Stiles is president and CEO of New Jersey Audubon.

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