HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission see last month’s introduction of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in the U.S. Senate as legislation that could provide more care for Pennsylvania’s and the nation’s fish and wildlife with the greatest conservation needs.
The bipartisan legislation (S.3223), introduced by Senators James Risch (R-Idaho), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D- N.D.), would authorize annual appropriations by Congress to states to conserve troubled fish and wildlife.
The Senate bill complements House legislation (H.R. 4647), introduced last December by Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), which has gained strong, bipartisan co-sponsorship for its innovative approach to solving America’s ongoing and deepening wildlife crisis. Currently, over 80 members have co-sponsored the House bill, including six from Pennsylvania.
Both bills would draw from $1.3 billion in existing revenue from the development of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters from more than $10 billion in annual revenues from traditional and renewable energy development and mineral development on federal lands and waters. The main difference between the two bills is that H.R. 4647 provides mandatory permanent funding language, while S. 3223 requires annual appropriations by Congress to allocate funding to the states.
Patterned after the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 2000, which narrowly failed to clear Congress, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act proposes to provide sufficient funding to states to proactively conserve imperiled species identified in State Wildlife Action Plans. It is 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.
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 to work toward goals in the State Wildlife Action Plan.
Under the House version of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, Pennsylvania would receive annual federal fish and wildlife conservation funding of about $34 million to better address the conservation actions for these species. The Senate version would require annual appropriations by Congress to allocate funding to the states.
“The dividends this act can provide Pennsylvania should make its passage important to anyone who cares about and wants healthy wildlife populations and all the benefits they provide daily to millions of Americans,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.
“This legislation is that important, that historic,” emphasized Burhans. “Without it, wildlife everywhere will lose and our outdoors will relinquish more of that vitality that so enchanted so many generations before us. The hour is late. The time to act is now.”
The Fish and Boat Commission also recognizes the almost unprecedented value and expanded coverage the Senate bill could provide Pennsylvania’s fish and wildlife conservation.
“The state fish and wildlife agencies across the nation greatly appreciate the bipartisan recognition by Congress that our nation’s fish and wildlife are in peril and need help and attention,” said Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway. “While additional funding will be directed towards fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need, the conservation efforts that will be applied by the states will benefit all species and enhance fish and wildlife populations and communities for the benefit of all people who enjoy angling, hunting and wildlife-associated recreation.”
“The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act legislation not only provides the states the requisite funding to continue the job of fish and wildlife management and conservation,” noted Arway, “but also provides the necessary security to ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy watching eagles catch fish in clean water and heathy habitats.”
The Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission are working closely with state and national conservation partners to bring this once-in-a-lifetime initiative to a vote in Washington, D.C. The need for long-term dedicated funding is obvious, and the agencies isare urging all Pennsylvania voters and conservationists to let legislators know how important the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is to them and Pennsylvania.
Estimates have a third of all American fish and wildlife as vulnerable or at risk.
Through federal funding provided by the State Wildlife Grants Program – created by Congress in 2000 – to support Pennsylvania’s species of greatest conservation need, conservation actions taken by the Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission, and partners have averted federal endangered species listings, such as the golden-winged warbler, and led to state delisting of several species: bald eagle, osprey, silver chub and spotted darter. Right now, wildlife needs all the friends it can muster to get the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act across the finish line.
“This bill is complementary to existing natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation programs and will allow all Americans to become investors in fish and wildlife conservation,” said Ron Regan, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies executive director. “Our funding model can no longer keep up with the needs of the full array of fish and wildlife in this country. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act provides a modern solution to an age-old problem and allows states to more fully implement their State Wildlife Action Plans.”
The emphasis of Wildlife Action Plans is proactive management that keeps marginal wildlife populations from slipping into more expensive care. In fact, most species identified in Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan do not appear on state or federal threatened or endangered species lists. But most also aren’t receiving sufficient care; there isn’t enough federal funding to provide it.
Pennsylvania is renowned for its enchanting mountains, meandering rivers and expansive marshes. But what value does it have without fish and wildlife. They’re the pulse of our great outdoors, what makes it so unforgettable.
To get involved, all Pennsylvanians are asked to contact their legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and ask them to support the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Let them know America’s conservation of imperiled fish and wildlife currently is insufficient and that the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would bridge the funding shortfalls that make compromised fish and wildlife more vulnerable.
To learn more about the management of Pennsylvania’s wildlife and the state’s Wildlife Action Plan, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission website at www.pgc.pa.gov. To learn more about the management of fish, reptiles, amphibians and other aquatic life, visit the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s website at www.fishandboat.com.