Legislation would create new conservation funding

HARRISBURG — Bipartisan legislation was reintroduced Dec. 14 in the U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C., by Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) that would dedicate $1.3 billion in funding to help states address the needs for thousands of fish and wildlife species in trouble across America.

Patterned after the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 2000, which narrowly failed to clear Congress, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647) proposes to provide assured and sufficient funding to states to proactively conserve imperiled species identified in State Wildlife Action Plans. It is being championed by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources, a think-tank of 26 energy, business and conservation leaders assembled in 2014 by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which serves North America’s state and provincial wildlife management agencies.

If approved, the Act’s new funding model would dedicate $1.3 billion annually, out of more than $10 billion in revenues from traditional and renewable energy development and mineral development on federal lands and waters, toward fish and wildlife conservation.

Pennsylvania currently receives about $1.5 million in federal State Wildlife Grant funds annually to manage the state’s 664 fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need and their associated habitats. Under the proposal, Pennsylvania would receive a guaranteed annual federal fish and wildlife conservation payout of about $34 million to better address the outlined conservation actions for these species. Every Pennsylvanian benefits when we have healthy and accessible fish and wildlife.

“The Game Commission is working closely with state and national conservation partners to push this once-in-a-lifetime initiative forward by soliciting grassroots help to let Congress know just how important the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the outdoors are to all Americans,” explained Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.

Pennsylvania is renowned for its Big Woods, Appalachian Mountains, scenic rivers and the creatures that enliven these destinations. But with each passing year, the challenges to maintain the Commonwealth’s diversity of wildlife become greater.

“The magnitude of the solution must match the magnitude of the challenge,” Burhans emphasized. “The challenges facing beleaguered wildlife will not go away by applying Band-Aids. They require indiscriminate and comprehensive attention. As soon as possible.”

The State Wildlife Grants Program, created by Congress in 2000, provided greatly needed funds for state wildlife agencies to address the significant conservation needs of imperiled species all states have a legal responsibility to conserve.

“The current funding level and year-to-year uncertainty of State Wildlife Grant funding haven’t provided the funding needed by the Game Commission and its vast network of partners to secure troubled wildlife populations now and into the future,” noted Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Division Chief Dan Brauning. “But the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has the wherewithal to make a significant difference for many troubled species. It just needs advocates.”

Given the chance to use federal dollars through the State Wildlife Grants Program to support Pennsylvania’s diversity causes, the Game Commission has stepped up to the plate and accomplished much for wildlife. Through this federal program, the agency has brokered projects with partners to develop a second Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas to continue monitoring the status of nesting birds; conduct research into the troubles facing barn owls and Allegheny woodrat; and to search for ways to reverse the tragic consequences of white-nose syndrome on cave bats.

The emphasis of Wildlife Action Plans is proactive management to keep wildlife from becoming endangered. In fact, most species identified in Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan do not appear on state or federal threatened or endangered species lists. The idea is to reverse declining species before they reach that critically low level.

Preventing species from becoming endangered is a goal shared by both business and conservation communities as well. Their well-being ensures less red tape for businesses and lower recovery costs for natural resource managers while promoting a stronger economy and a brighter future for fish and wildlife.

“Pennsylvanians love wildlife and strongly support the Game Commission’s efforts to conserve the 480 species under our jurisdiction, particularly threatened and endangered species, and their habitats,” explained Burhans. “The Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan, our statewide blueprint for conservation of imperiled species, outlines what we need to do – together – over the next 10 years to move the needle in the right direction. We know what to do. We just need the financial means to do it.”

The legislation would establish dedicated funding – eliminating increases in taxpayer costs and regulatory oversight – to help keep troubled species from reaching state and federal endangered species lists. The need is obvious. But without adequate support from Americans and the legislators who represent them, this latest effort to help this continent’s beleaguered species of greatest conservation need will again fall short of the finish line.

To get involved, Pennsylvanians are asked to contact their legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and ask them to get behind the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647). The message is: America’s conservation of imperiled wildlife is inadequate, and this legislation would accomplish much good for them.

Visit OurNatureUSA.com to learn more about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and share your voice for Pennsylvania’s wildlife. Read more about the Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan on the Game Commission website: