The Hill: Keep Wildlife Off Endangered List with Proactive Conservation Funding

Mar 7, 2018
In The News

Often, we do not realize we miss something until it’s already gone. I’m in a minority of people who think about wildlife conservation daily. I think about how thousands of fish and wildlife species are at risk of becoming endangered, and how different our nation would be if they didn’t exist — or if we didn’t have to spend an arm and a leg getting species off the endangered list.

Successfully rebounding a population doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes a lot of resources — time, money, research, partnerships and patience.

Take wild turkeys for example. In 1973, there were only about 1.5 million wild turkeys in North America. Many states had so few wild turkeys they were hardly ever spotted. Over the next few decades, fish and wildlife agencies and their partners, including the National Wild Turkey Federation, worked to implement science-based conservation projects that led to a historic rebound. Today, there are over 6 million wild turkeys in the U.S., in every state except Alaska. It took time but the juice was worth the squeeze.

Unfortunately, many other animals are in similar positions as the wild turkey was in the ’70s. Today, more than a third of all U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of becoming endangered. The dire situation is due to multiple factors, but one thing is certain: If we don’t act now, not only will our nation’s precious resources lose, but we as a nation will lose. The diverse array of fish and wildlife provide not only outdoor recreation benefit, but also more intangible benefits people may not realize like cleaner air and water and improved mental health from spending time in nature.

The recently introduced Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), bridges the massive chasm in funding for state fish and wildlife agencies to proactively implement conservation efforts. The act, inspired by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources, would redirect $1.3 billion annually in existing royalties from the development of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program to conserve a full array of fish and wildlife in every state. 

We’d be taking money made from a non-renewable resource and reinvesting it in a renewable one. Plus, the American public and businesses alike would not pay more in taxes as a result of this legislation.

The new funding model is desperately needed. For 80 years, sportsmen and women have carried the financial weight for conservation efforts, but that funding source is no longer adequate. There’s simply not enough revenue from taxes on sporting arms, ammunition, bows and arrows and hunting and fishing licenses and stamps to cover the cost of what’s truly needed to conserve all species of need — not just game species — in every state.

Congress mandates each state fish and wildlife agency create a State Wildlife Action Plan, outlining the funding and resources necessary to conserve all 12,000 species at greatest risk of endangerment. While states need $1.3 billion collectively for this critical conservation work, they are currently receiving $62 million total annually.

With passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, all Americans will become vested in conservation, as the proposed legislation funds conservation of the species with the greatest needs now to keep them from being listed under the Endangered Species Act in the future.

Our nation’s fish and wildlife are at a crossroads. Do nothing, and thousands of species could fall onto the Endangered Species list — coming with costly last-ditch efforts to save them. Or, get ahead of the problem with science-based, proactive conservation efforts that impact the entire nation and do not cost taxpayers more.

It’s time for Congress to modernize our nation’s conservation funding, on a scale that can have a lasting, real impact. It’s time to support the recovery of America’s fish and wildlife.

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