A bill that could provide the biggest funding for wildlife in 50 years is one step closer to becoming law, according to conservation groups. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was passed by the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works last week.
State wildlife agencies need more funding for the hundreds of species the agencies are supposed to manage, according to conservation groups. In recent years, a major source of funding from hunting and fishing licenses has been lacking.
Now, a bill before the US Congress could provide more than $1 billion each year to state agencies and tribes to recover endangered wildlife. The Washington and Oregon Departments of Fish and Wildlife could each receive more than $20 million a year.
“The type of recovery work that states can do with this money is the type of stuff that’s not being done right now,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of the Conservation Northwest group.
For example, about 4% of recovery efforts for the Washington State Wildlife Action Plan, which includes 268 species, have now started, Friedman said. The additional federal funding could help more state agencies achieve more wildlife recovery priorities, he said.
Additional funding could help recovery projects such as reintroducing weasel-like anglers to the Washington Cascades and restoring Canada lynx to the Kettle River Range, Friedman said. Both projects relied on a lot of private and innovative financing, he said, to stay viable.
“These are great accomplishments, but if this law is passed, this type of work can happen without having to look elsewhere for money,” Friedman said.
The goal, he said, is to keep the species off the endangered species list, which he likened to an emergency room — an expensive, somewhat overdue treatment.
“We want to keep our wildlife out of the ’emergency room’ by investing earlier in conservation,” Friedman said.
Although Congress has passed several passes to the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, Zach Schwartz, Oregon program manager for Wildlands Network, said he thinks the bill could become law this time around.
However, lawmakers are still figuring out how to fund the bill, he said.
In Oregon, the national wildlife agency has also suffered from funding issues, Schwartz said.
In 2016, a task force reported that the ministry needed nearly $50 million a year in additional funding to expand conservation efforts. Oregon’s conservation strategy lists 294 wildlife species that need protection.
Additionally, wildlife faces a number of threats, Schwartz said, including climate change and urban sprawl, such as in Deschutes County, Oregon’s fastest growing region.
“The more money we can put into planning and adapting to these changes, the better,” Schwartz said.
Also, Friedman said, more recovery efforts need to be done soon to protect wildlife.
“There is never a shortage of things that need to be done to secure the future of our wildlife,” Friedman said. “The best first step we can take for this is to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.”
Then the US House and Senate versions of the bill will head to a floor vote in each chamber.