Fort Report: Our Land, Our Water, Our Wildlife
This week in Washington, I attended an event with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the largest bipartisan caucus in Congress. I met a gentleman from South Carolina who travels twice a year to Nebraska. He's a real authority on turkeys and was eager to show me a video of his last turkey hunt. I didn't have time to get independent verification, but, as he told me, there is no other place in the country where you find three distinct subspecies of turkey. In the southeastern corner of Nebraska, you can find the Eastern turkey; in the southwestern corner, you can get a Rio; and out west you can get a Merriam. A unique trifecta exists right here at home.
Nebraska has the largest turkey population in America. You can find them in every one of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Lincoln County ranks in the top 10 nationally for turkey numbers. This new-found abundance of turkeys is an amazing story. Due to urban pressures, habitat loss, and improperly regulated hunting seasons, not too long ago wild turkeys were in decline across the nation. They have since rebounded through basic conservation efforts.
The return of this rich Nebraska asset presents another trifecta of opportunity. Through innovative thinking, imagine the tremendous social, cultural, and economic multipliers for our rural communities from enhanced recreational and hunting options. At a time when we are all anxious about vulnerability due to ag markets and trade, better leveraging our existing conservation work for the preservation of species, in tandem with smart land utilization, has tremendous benefits for the community and environment. Some of our farm state neighbors have done this pretty well.
Here are some things we are doing on the federal level to harness the enormous wildlife habitat potential in Nebraska and other states. The existing Land and Water Conservation Fund and our proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act reconcile the idea of healthy land use so that conservation, species preservation, and hunting opportunities can converge around the important value of stewardship. Among other things, the Land and Water Conservation Fund works in a voluntary manner with landowners to put land currently in private lands into conservation on financial terms that are mutually beneficial. This is far superior to the legal taking of land for this purpose.
The proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would take an upstream approach to habitat protection through robust funding of state wildlife action plans, so that we do not have the downstream effects of habitat loss. This is a pressing matter as Congress must soon look at the reauthorization of the historic Endangered Species Act, which was originally passed by Congress back in 1973 at the strong urging of President Richard Nixon. While the act has yielded noteworthy successes, such as the saving of our national symbol, the bald eagle, from extinction, here are the hard realities: Of 2,493 species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, only 54 have sufficiently recovered to be removed from the list.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act gets in front of the problem by preventing wildlife from becoming endangered in the first place. It moves us from regulation and costly litigation to collaboration. The bill is gaining momentum as it enjoys a wide array of support from traditional environmental groups, conservationists, and the sporting community.
Frankly, I've gotten so attentive to wild turkeys of late that I strained my neck on Highway 75 recently trying to see if that was a tom or hen strutting on the side of the road. I really don't know anyone who doesn't value the beauty of nature and wild places. In a time of divided government, fixing a few things so that our productive use of the land works in harmony with wildlife can significantly enhance opportunity roosting right among us.