July 18, 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators James Risch (R-Idaho) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) along with their colleagues Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) introduced groundbreaking legislation in the United States Senate yesterday to provide a critical source of funding for conservation across the country. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S. 3223) will redirect $1.3 billion annually from energy development on federal lands and waters to the existing Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program.
This solution, recommended initially by the energy sector, is in addition to existing natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation programs, and will not require taxpayers or businesses to pay any additional funds toward conserving America’s fish and wildlife. Instead, existing funds generated will be reallocated to provide the boost needed for the conservation of our nation’s wildlife.
The Senate bill complements the House version (H.R. 4647), introduced in December 2017 by Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), which has gained strong, bipartisan co-sponsorship due to its innovative approach to solving America’s wildlife crisis, with the current list of co-sponsors growing to 78 members, including Arkansas Representatives French Hill and Bruce Westerman.
The funding from this bill will be dedicated to much needed work concerning species that are in decline but not necessarily “threatened” or “endangered” according to federal law. During the last decade, each state has identified many of these populations, dubbed “species of greatest conservation need.” The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has worked with many partners to develop its list of species that fall in this category, and has outlined their needs for recovery under the “Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan.” The plan highlights 377 of these species, both aquatic and terrestrial, ranging from the Ozark hellbender to the northern bobwhite. If passed, this bill will allocate approximately $15 million annually to conservation efforts for these species in Arkansas alone.
“This is our chance to be proactive about conserving species before they reach the level of Threatened or Endangered,” said Chris Colclasure, assistant deputy director for the AGFC. “This legislation, if funded, will ensure that we have better quality habitat for all species, and it will do so in a collaborative and cooperative way.”
Thanks to the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund, many species of animals have been saved from extinction through a model in which manufacturers of hunting and angling equipment pay excise taxes on sales that are devoted to conservation and habitat management. While many of these funds are dedicated to game species and sport fish, nongame species have always benefited from the increased habitat work provided. Colclasure says the same shared benefits likely will hold true for projects accomplished through the new funding if it passes.
“What we do for one species typically will benefit a suite of animals,” Colclasure said. “Improved grassland habitat for pollinators, butterflies and songbirds will help quail and wild turkeys that use those same types of habitat during part of the year.”