Legislation funds voluntary conservation with fines from polluters ~ Missoula Current


Purple finches, indicators of healthy coniferous habitat, are on the decline in the northwest, according to data from the Klamath Bird Observatory. (Photo by J. Livaudais)

A wildlife conservation bill inspired by the Great American Outdoors Act has been introduced for the third time in Congress. Conservationists and biologists say wildlife can’t wait much longer for the big conservation efforts needed to save the habitat.

On Tuesday, Senators Martin Heinrich, DN.M., and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to the Senate and told reporters why they felt the need to sponsor a bill that was languishing in two Congresses. previous ones. The bill originally introduced in July 2018 by Senator James Risch, R-Idaho, but was not introduced to the Senate during the last Congress.

Heinrich, who has sponsored several conservation and athletic bills, said he feared that a third of American species now face an increased risk of extinction.

“We know exactly which wildlife conservation strategies have proven to be effective in dealing with this crisis. We just haven’t done enough about it and haven’t funded it adequately, ”said Heinrich.

Heinrich and Blunt were the architects of the Great American Outdoors Act, which was enacted almost a year ago, providing funds for long overdue maintenance in national parks and forests. They said the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would be similar in that it uses funds paid by polluters rather than taxpayers.

The $ 1.4 billion the bill would allocate to conservation efforts – such as restoring and reconnecting degraded habitats, removing invasive species, combating wildlife diseases and improving the climate resilience – would come from fines paid by polluters and those convicted of environmental crimes. State fisheries and wildlife agencies would receive $ 1.3 billion and tribal nations $ 97.5 million annually.

Heinrich said the money should be available because the 10-year average of amounts collected from polluters is around $ 1.4 billion.

“This indicates exactly where we expect it to happen. And given the trendline, it is increasing significantly, ”said Heinrich. “We have seen the success of other pieces of legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act, and we certainly hope to replicate that, given how the core of this legislation is truly bipartisan.”

In most major terrestrial habitats, the abundance of native species, including plants, has declined by at least 20 percent. The Greater Sage-Grouse is a prime example in the American West, where its habitat has declined by almost half since 1960. (Bob Wick / BLM)

Blunt said they picked up the catchphrase from the Great American Outdoors Act and were looking for a source of funding that would be adequate year after year. The bill also creates an office of wildlife conservation and restoration within the US Fish and Wildlife Service to encourage voluntary restoration.

“It’s a model that worked with the Great American Outdoors Act. This is a really important second act for this bill defining national parks, ”said Blunt.

The bill enjoys considerable bipartisan support. In April, Representatives Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., And Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., Introduced the law to the House, where it currently has 19 Republicans and 70 Democrats. When the duo introduced the bill previously in July 2019, there were 45 Republicans and 140 Democrats.

The money would be distributed to the states in a method similar to that of the Dingell-Johnson or Pittman-Robertson Acts, based on a formula incorporating land area, number of license holders paid, minimums and maximums and states must be able to match funds. Debbie Dingell’s husband, Representative John Dingell, passed the Dingell-Johnson Act. If the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act passes, some have said money from Montana’s new marijuana tax could be used for matching funds.

Nonprofits and landowner organizations can also apply for funding. And at least 15% must be spent on conserving the habitat of threatened and endangered species.

Funded projects are expected to align with congress-mandated state wildlife action plans, which identify specific science-based strategies to restore populations of species in greatest need of conservation. These plans identify over 12,000 species in need of conservation assistance.

Without this funding, as part of the new direction taken by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to move away from science towards more economic concerns, it is unlikely that much of the conservation will be done beyond certain game species. But the law would require the conservation of all kinds of wild animals.

“It goes beyond the previous programs – Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson. They were helpful, but they weren’t necessarily remedial, ”Blunt said. “There are a lot of species that are not necessarily trophy-hunting animals that make (ecosystems) in general function and make sense of wildlife habitat.”

Wildlife Society wildlife and fishing professionals agreed, praising the legislation on Tuesday. They highlighted this summer of extreme drought and fires triggered by climate change, saying the need has never been greater.

“The increase in water temperature, lack of water in streams and rivers, poor water quality and loss of habitat have put 40% of freshwater species at risk and , unfortunately, climate change means the situation will only get worse. With a dedicated stream of funding, we can implement science-based conservation plans that will build resilience in the face of climate change, ”said Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society.

Backcountry hunters and fishermen have stepped in, saying protecting habitat for species at risk such as harlequin ducks can also help game species such as mallards. Improving the habitat of one species benefits everyone, said Land Tawney, CEO of BHA.
“Legislation, conservation funding and the engaged and informed fieldwork of wildlife managers have a proud history of great success in restoring habitat for both game and non-game species,” said Tawney. “The time for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has arrived. We look forward to Congress taking action, investing in cash that has not benefited from past efforts, and pushing this popular legislation to the president’s desk. “

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at [email protected]

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