Pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, restore ecosystems

Disturbing headlines about wildlife keep popping up. Three billion fewer birds in our skies than 50 years ago; about one-third of America’s wild species are threatened with extinction; wildlife diseases threatening ecological and economic stability; crop pollinators such as birds and bees declining rapidly.

However, there are many wildlife success stories to tell. White-tailed deer, almost extinct a century ago, are now abundant. The once-rare wild turkey has returned to healthy populations and been reintroduced to areas where it had been extirpated. The country’s bison population, once reduced to less than 600, now includes more than 30,000 in the wild and many more on private ranches.

A big part of the reason for the shift from decline to recovery has been funding. Federal, state, and private funds have played a key role in habitat restoration, research, and the reintroduction of many species that were once critically endangered.

Current funding is only about 5% of what has been identified as needed to restore the nation’s 12,000 species listed as species in greatest need of conservation, including more than 1,300 in Texas.

This is where the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act kicks in. This bipartisan legislation is the solution: $1.3 billion a year in federal funding sent to state wildlife agencies to distribute to wildlife conservation, water conservation and restoration of ecosystems.

Conservation organizations, land trusts, state agencies, academic researchers, landowners, and others seeking to restore wildlife habitat and recover declining wildlife could apply for funds. Each state’s wildlife agency – in Texas it’s the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife – would assess proposed projects and require 25% funding to ensure the money is well spent. .

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was passed by the US House of Representatives in June and is about to be voted on in the US Senate. To become law, the bill must be passed by the Senate and returned to the House to resolve any disputes, all before the end of the year.

Benefits of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would be wide, reaching a wide range of Texans.

Conservation efforts to stabilize an at-risk wildlife population cost taxpayers less if they are started early, before costly recovery efforts are needed. Voluntary efforts to conserve and recover listed species on private lands can help facilitate essential readiness and training exercises on military bases like Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis. Keeping wildlife off the endangered species list solves problems faced by companies such as oil and gas exploration when an endangered species list triggers regulatory uncertainty.

The legislation would be a boon to Texas’ multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry, giving Texans more places to hunt, fish, hike, swim, paddle, bike, bird watch and photograph nature. Removing invasive plants along rivers promotes clean water and healthy fish and people. Expanded cost-sharing and technical assistance programs for landowners would help ranchers improve native rangelands, benefiting livestock as well as wildlife. The economy would grow, as non-profit organizations, state agencies, landowners, universities, cities, and communities would create projects to protect wildlife and expand outdoor education.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has 42 co-sponsors in the Senate. It takes 60 votes to pass. We hope our US Senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, will vote yes.

Karen Hixon is the former Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner. A philanthropist, Hixon has been involved in many conservation initiatives.