Legislation aims to protect America’s wildlife before they’re on endangered list

September 11, 2017 Alaina Kowitz

Recovering America's Wildlife Act would dedicate over $1 billion for states to implement wildlife action plans

By Mitch Friedman, Executive Director

Washington is blessed with a diverse array of fish and wildlife, and our rich natural heritage is a point of pride for millions, Huskies and Cougars alike. But we’re the smallest western state, with the least amount of public land, and our rapidly growing population makes the Evergreen State packed enough to put nature at risk.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has identified more than 150 species of concern. Orca whales, pygmy rabbits, lynx, mountain caribou and many others are at risk here. Nationwide, state fish and wildlife agencies have identified 12,000 species of greatest need for conservation action.

Thankfully, bi-partisan legislation that is expected to soon be reintroduced in Congress would create a new support system to conserve and recover these species, providing a boost for wildlife before they need the costly, restrictive “emergency room” measures required by the Endangered Species Act.

Washington, like every other state, has developed a State Wildlife Action Plan to assess the health of its wildlife and outline the conservation actions necessary to sustain them. Collectively, these plans form a nationwide strategy to prevent wildlife from becoming imperiled. An ounce of prevention, as Ben Franklin advised.

However, just to implement a major portion of every state’s wildlife action plans would cost billions annually, and few states have any dedicated (state or federal) revenue stream for the purpose of wildlife diversity. As a result, states are forced to focus on those species that are already endangered without being able to proactively conserve those that are vulnerable. Attending to wildlife only after they reach a crisis point is much more expensive and burdensome for all involved. 

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has identified more than 150 species of concern. Orca whales, pygmy rabbits, lynx, mountain caribou and many others are at risk here. Nationwide, state fish and wildlife agencies have identified 12,000 species of greatest need for conservation action.

This is where the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (introduced as H.R. 5650 in 2016, expected to be reintroduced in September 2017) comes in. This bill would dedicate $1.3 billion of existing revenues from energy development on federal lands and waters for states to implement their wildlife action plans. The money would go into an established funding mechanism and state agencies have a proven track record of using those funds effectively. 

The money will largely be spent on efforts such as restoring habitats, reintroducing native wildlife, fighting invasive species, and monitoring emerging diseases. In Washington state, funds could be used to help struggling mountain caribou populations, restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades, and continuing the reintroduction of fishers to their native habitat in the state.

This approach has bipartisan support in Congress, and from diverse interests including outdoor enthusiasts, the recreation and energy industries, and much more. It would be the most significant investment in wildlife conservation in a generation.

Proactive conservation of fish and wildlife before emergency efforts under the Endangered Species Act makes biological and fiscal sense. Without dedicated funding for proactive conservation, hundreds of species will face increasing risks, accelerated by climate change. Applying existing revenues from the use of our non-renewable natural resources for conservation is a pragmatic and logical solution that would benefit America’s wildlife, taxpayers and businesses.

Washingtonians cherish wildlife and wild places, spending over $21.6 billion each year enjoying the rich natural heritage of our state, according to the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, so conservation is a wise investment in every way.

The magnitude of the solution must match the magnitude of the challenge; the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a key part of the solution we need to address America’s wildlife crisis.

 

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