Opinion article by Michael Butler, CEO of Tennessee Wildlife Federation, as it appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel on September 3, 2018.
In a significant step forward for wildlife, the Senate version of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S.3223) was introduced in July by bipartisan cosponsors, including Sen. Lamar Alexander.
This bill is designed to proactively keep America’s nongame fish and wildlife off threatened and endangered species lists, which is more effective and cost efficient than responding after a species is endangered. It closely aligns with its House counterpart (H.R.4647), which boasts more than 90 bipartisan cosponsors, including Tennessee Representatives Cooper, Fleischmann, and Kustoff.
Having a Senate bill to pair with the House’s creates the real potential for the nation to achieve a once-in-a-lifetime milestone for wildlife conservation. However, the current Senate bill falls just short of what is truly needed to address mounting wildlife conservation needs.
In order to deliver on the intent of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, three components are needed: funding that is dedicated, adequate, and recurring.
The Senate and House bills deliver on the first component by identifying a dedicated source of funding and routing it to a dedicated program. They designate existing revenue from oil and gas royalties on federal lands and waters, which is reliable and requires no new taxes. But regardless of funds’ origins, having a dedicated source helps shield it from future political games.
Both versions of the Act also dedicate the funds to enable state wildlife agencies to implement their State Wildlife Action Plans, which are blueprints for conserving fish and wildlife, and other activities to help imperiled wildlife. Tennessee’s State Wildlife Action Plan identifies 1,499 plant and animal species in greatest need of conservation. These plans are proven tools for prioritizing efforts and improving species’ outlook.
But here is where the House bill holds steady and the Senate bill begins to fall short.
The House will fund activities to help imperiled wildlife at $1.3 billion nationwide—$20.8 million for Tennessee. This amount was determined to adequately fund the conservation needs laid out in the State Wildlife Action Plans and similar efforts.
However, the Senate bill sets the $1.3 billion only as a goal each year, not a guarantee.
A similar approach was created in the early 2000s that has made some gains, but it has been both massively and chronically underfunded. Currently, funding is less than 5 percent of what is needed. Because wildlife and habitats are an intertwined system, adequate funding to address many species’ needs is imperative to generating meaningful gains.
Finally, the Senate bill does not provide recurring funding like the House bill does. Wildlife conservation requires methodical and sustained work. For example, habitat restoration and management are long-term propositions that take time before wildlife responds and builds up healthy populations. This work is impossible if there’s the threat that funding will spike, drop, or even disappear in coming years—regardless of the final amount.
The introduction of Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in the Senate could be the single biggest step forward for nongame wildlife in decades. But, it has yet to realize its full potential.
We encourage all Tennesseans to reach out to their members of Congress to request they co-sponsor the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, as well as request it be complete with funding that is dedicated, adequate, and recurring. For more information and to take action, visit tnwf.org/recovering