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Bipartisan bill would invest in the future of America’s great wildlife legacy

Red wolves are a federally protected endangered species. In the wild they are found in northeastern North Carolina, part of their historical range. (Photo: USFWS)

Congress is on the verge of passing a bipartisan bill called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would transform conservation funding by sending an additional $1.4 billion a year to state and tribal wildlife-habitat conservation programs to shore up the 12,000 mostly non-game species that states have already identified as being at risk.

First introduced in 2017 by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, the bill has broad bipartisan support. Most North Carolina members of Congress from both parties have signed on as sponsors. The current national conservation model, paid for by hunters and anglers and gun buyers, has successfully brought back once-scarce game species like white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, but it is woefully inadequate to protect the birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and other species facing the twin threats of habitat loss and climate change.

Tony Wasley, president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, explained what that actually means.

“We have to take care of 895 commonly occurring species in Nevada based on funding that comes from people’s desire to recreationally pursue 8 percent of those species,” he told the New York Times.

In fact, 33% of all U.S. species are at risk of becoming endangered, and federal funding is less than 5 percent of what is necessary to conserve these species. Some skeptics have pointed out that $1.4 billion is a large sum of money, but when put into appropriate context the amount RAWA will invest in the future of our great public lands wildlife and wildlands legacy is a drop in the bucket.

For example, worldwide subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas reached $5.9 trillion in 2020 — or roughly $11 million every minute — according to the International Monetary Fund. The combined profits of the largest energy companies in the first quarter of 2022 was about $100 billion. ExxonMobil took in an unprecedented $17.85 billion profit for the second quarter and Chevron made a record $11.62 billion.

The Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife — which is made up of 120 different conservation groups from around the country — has rallied behind the Act, with groups like the National Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers calling RAWA the most important piece of wildlife legislation since the Endangered Species Act.

Colorado will receive an estimated $26 million annually if RAWA passes. North Carolina would reap just over $25 million.

“All parts of the biological community matter,” said Land Tawney, BHA President and CEO. “But unfortunately, much of our nation’s wildlife has been neglected … ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!’”

We are right on the cusp of passing RAWA.

“We are sending a message to state and tribal wildlife managers: Your work is critical to America’s fish and wildlife, and we are committed to providing you with the resources you need,” Tawney added.

David Lien of Colorado Springs, Colorado is a former Air Force officer, co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and a contributor to Colorado Newsline, which first published this commentary.

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Bipartisan bill would invest in the future of America’s great wildlife legacy