A legislative initiative that could make available millions of dollars in new federal funding to protect some of South Carolina’s most vulnerable wildlife species got another nudge forward this week with the introduction of a bill in the U.S. Senate. The leadership of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources strongly supports passage of this bill.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, known as RAWA (S. 3223), was introduced July 17th by Senators James Risch of Idaho and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The legislation recommends funding for conservation of those fish and wildlife species in greatest need across the country. S. 3223 is a “companion bill” to House Resolution (H.R.) 4647, introduced in December 2017 by U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan. The House version of the bill has gained strong, bipartisan co-sponsorship, with the current list of co-sponsors growing to over 75 members, including South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, a member of the House Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.
“The introduction of this companion bill in the Senate signifies the recognized importance of this legislation for species of greatest conservation need contained within states’ Wildlife Action Plans,” said SCDNR biologist Anna Huckabee Smith, coordinator for South Carolina’s plan. “We sincerely hope that a melding of both the House and Senate versions results in a solid funding source for research, surveys and on-the-ground habitat management to benefit these species.”
RAWA seeks to dedicate $1.3 billion in existing revenue from mineral and energy development on federal lands to the conservation of America’s wildlife, fisheries and their associated habitats. Under the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program, monies would be allocated directly to the states to manage our nation’s most vulnerable species and the natural areas they call home. South Carolina would be eligible for over $15 million annually in additional funding to implement our State Wildlife Action Plan.
If citizens demonstrate their support to lawmakers in large enough numbers, both bills could pass their respective chambers before the end of 2018. The legislation is supported by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) is a member of the Association. In addition, the state Natural Resources Board, the policy-making body for the SCDNR, voted unanimously in March 2018 to support the legislation. The effort to pass this legislation was built upon the strong partnership created by the “Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources,” which was made up of members representing the outdoor recreation, retail and manufacturing sector, the energy and automotive industries, private landowners, educational institutions, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups, and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies.