Good morning and thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
As mentioned, my name is Greg Weeks. I am a 20-plus-year volunteer with Ducks Unlimited, as well as the secretary of the national board and senior director in the province of Ontario.
I'd also like to recognize my colleague Jim Brennan, our national director of government affairs, who is here with me today.
On behalf of Ducks Unlimited and our 120,000 active donors and the millions of Canadians who support our mission, we are honoured to be here with you today. Thank you for the opportunity to share our views on the economic and environmental significance of licensed hunting and trapping in Canada.
As an avid angler and a hunter myself, I'm sometimes asked how my recreational activities correspond with my environmental concerns and my passion for conserving the wetland and waterfowl resources that we have here in Canada. As I'm sure most of you agree, the reality is that the two go hand in hand.
Hunting truly is a lifestyle and an expression of our commitment to protecting valuable natural resources. lt doesn't have a beginning nor does it have an end like a sport or a game; rather, it engages us through a unique, lifelong relationship with the natural world. Throughout Ducks Unlimited's history, licensed hunters and trappers have played a vital role in the growth and development of our organization and in driving the vital conservation successes we have had on the landscape.
The genesis of Ducks Unlimited in North America nearly eight decades ago resulted from the responsible activities of conservation-minded hunters who were deeply concerned by the dramatic decline in wetland habitat and the need for strong waterfowl and wildlife populations. These community leaders decided to take action in Manitoba by restoring Big Grass Marsh in Manitoba in the midst of the prairie drought of the 1930s.
Today our organization remains firmly rooted in the Canadian hunting tradition. Waterfowl hunting remains a cultural activity that connects many of our supporters, and we continue to support our youth waterfowling mentorship program across the country.
Furthermore, the support of hunters and trappers has been critical in advancing our scientific research and on-the-ground conservation programs across the continent.
Wildlife scientists, hunters, and trappers in Canada and the United States were the main drivers behind the creation of the North American waterfowl management plan, also known as NAWMP, in the mid-1980s. It's widely regarded as the most successful conservation partnership in the world. Success under NAWMP has been driven by strong partnerships among hunters, waterfowl scientists, NGO partners like Ducks Unlimited, provincial and state governments, as well as federal governments in Canada and the United States. Since its inception in 1986, NAWMP has invested over $1.4 billion in habitat conservation in Canada and the United States, which has resulted in almost 20 million conserved acres across North America.
ln both countries, waterfowl hunters continue to fund this conservation through the purchase of licences and federal waterfowl hunting conservation stamps, and also through philanthropic donations. ln fact, this year will mark 50 years that the U.S. state fish and wildlife agencies have been allocating a portion of their annual budgets to support waterfowl habitat conservation here in Canada. Ducks Unlimited Canada and our sister organization Ducks Unlimited in the U.S., will be recognizing this milestone at a reception at the Canadian embassy in Washington later in May.
Stories like these illustrate an important point about the profound connection hunters have with the natural environment and the significant role they have played throughout Canadian history in driving habitat conservation through their own initiatives. However, while the hunting community has achieved tremendous success through the support of wetland conservation across Canada, there is a clear and urgent need for federal leadership to further protect migratory birds and their habitat. That's why we are grateful for the government's national conservation plan, NCP, and the programs it supports, including the national wetlands conservation fund and the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program.
These initiatives provide critically important funding for on-the-ground conservation work, while at the same time supporting outdoor recreation and educational opportunities. We strongly support the steps this government has taken to protect Canada's cultural heritage through the NCP, and we recommend that this valuable initiative be maintained into the future and existing funding opportunities be enhanced.
We believe that this kind of continued investment is not only critical to protect wildlife but also supports rural job creation and economic growth, because just as hunting supports habitat conservation, habitat conservation supports the Canadian economy.
Like other groups that have appeared before this committee, I have already pointed out that there is unequivocal evidence of economic benefits of hunting and trapping. However, it is important to bear in mind that there are direct economic benefits from habitat conservation itself.
Recent studies indicate that for every dollar invested in Ducks Unlimited's conservation work, Canadian society enjoys $22 in total economic benefits. These benefits include ecosystem services such as water quality regulation and flood control, contributions to tourism and outdoor recreation, and an estimated 970 full-time equivalent jobs annually.
A 2013 study by ecological economist Mark Anielski found that Ducks Unlimited's conservation and habitat restoration activities, largely supported by hunters, generated GDP benefits of $77.1 million per year. The same study found that the more than 2.5 million hectares of wetlands and natural areas secured and managed by Ducks Unlimited Canada generated an estimated $208.5 million in economic activity through Canada's recreation and tourism sector alone.
When leveraged by partners, including Ducks Unlimited, Canada's participation in the NAWMP means that nearly $20 million in U.S. funding is made available through Canadian conservation work on an annual basis. This funding is heavily supported by hunters for the benefit of all Canadians.
A 2013 study by University of Toronto economist Thomas Wilson found that for every dollar of federal investment in Ducks Unlimited conservation activities, roughly 66¢ is offset by tax transfer recapture. As your committee continues to study the economic benefits of licensed hunting and trapping in Canada, we recommend that you account for those direct economic benefits produced through habitat conservation programs and projects, as these are critical contributions to Canada's economy, as driven by hunters and trappers.
Government-led conservation programs and policies supporting the protection of wildlife habitat are vital to maintaining our country's hunting and trapping heritage. While hunter recruitment, interestingly, has taken a small upturn in recent years, the overall trend has been one of gradual decline. We believe that one of the main causes of this is an increasing urbanization of society. Canadians simply don't have the same easy access to our forests, marshes, and grasslands that they once had. Today, those wishing to hunt must travel further and further out of the city to access increasingly marginal wildlife habitat. The gradual decline in hunter participation since the 1970s has placed increasing financial pressures on NGOs and all levels of government. As reduced licence revenues and fewer tax dollars are generated from recreational hunting, this ultimately means that fewer conserved acres are put on the ground.
The Government of Canada's clear commitment to supporting hunters, trappers, and conservationists is critical. Today we urge you to further consider actions in support of licensed hunting and trapping activities in Canada, including making it easier for Canadians to discover the outdoors and take up activities that have been part of our cultural heritage since before our founding.
Thank you very much for your time. We're happy to answer any questions.