A bill that could provide much-needed funding for state and tribal fishing and wildlife agencies has been passed by the US House of Representatives and is going to the Senate for consideration.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was passed 231-190 on Tuesday. Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho’s 2nd congressional district, co-sponsored the legislation and voted for it. His fellow Republican, Rep. Russ Fulcher of Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, voted against.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican representing Eastern Washington, also voted against.
If passed by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden, the bill amending the popular Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act would reduce the annual distribution of $1.3 billion from the U.S. Treasury to national wildlife organizations and $97.5 million to native lead nature organizations.
While the formula is subject to change based on Senate action, as it stands, Idaho would receive an estimated $18 million a year and Washington $21 million. The states would continue to receive traditional Pittman-Robertson funding that distributes federal taxes on weapons and ammunition to state and tribal wildlife organizations.
Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, called the bill a “generational investment” in fish and wildlife conservation. Many fishing and wildlife agencies, such as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, are funded largely through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and labels and a portion of excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. Some, such as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, also receive a portion of the general state funds.
Conservation organizations often struggle to fund the whole range of necessary habitat restoration and species conservation activities under their authority – especially those related to non-hunted and fished species that do not have specific sources of funding. As an emergency measure, they often divert money from special funding sources to help “non-wild” species and fulfill their mandate to protect all fish and animal species.
“This is a way for anyone who loves and takes advantage of wildlife to pay for their conservation,” Brooks said. “Sportsmen have always done it. We all love fishing and wildlife, but only athletes get money (management and conservation).”
The bill provides that funding must prioritize species that are already or are likely to be protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. Jim Fredericks, deputy director of Idaho Fish and Game, said the legislation, if passed, will help prevent future listings under the ESA and the restrictive regulations that come with it.
“It would give Idaho significantly more money for proactive fishing and conservation and for some species that have not benefited from traditional funding sources,” he said. “One of the goals of the legislation is to provide means to keep species off the endangered list. So the potential is not just to be a real benefit to the wildlife of Idaho, but also the people of Idaho.”
Simpson said in a statement that he was pleased to help advance a bill originally drafted and sponsored by the late Don Young, a Republican congressman from Alaska.
“Healthy and diverse wildlife populations in Idaho provide environmental and economic benefits, and by ensuring we have robust fish populations and wildlife, we are making a long-term investment in the future for fishermen and hunters,” he said. “I am proud that the House of Representatives came together in a bipartisan fashion to support this measure that led one of America’s great fishermen and hunters before he died.”
A spokesman for McMorris Rogers said inflation and high gas prices fueled her opposition.
“While Cathy supports the goal of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, she believes it would be irresponsible at this point to spend another $1.4 billion with no plans to pay for it and will only make our economic crisis worse.” Kyle VonEnde said.
An earlier draft of the legislation used a small portion of the royalties that companies pay to pump oil and gas out of federal lands to foot the bill. But that language was removed in 2019. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Republicans from Idaho, said through representatives that they support conservation but want the bill’s spending to be offset by cuts in other programs.
sen. Washington’s Patty Murray supports the bill, saying in a statement that Washington’s diverse mix of species, including salmon and northern spotted owls, makes the state special.
“This legislation is critical to repairing damage to our environment and reaffirming our commitment to defending habitats for our fish and wildlife. We owe it to our children and future generations to do this. so I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to forward this bill to the President’s Office.”
The legislation has been in place since 2016 but has not yet passed Congress, despite the accumulation of more than 140 co-sponsors. Conservation groups have been lobbying for the bill since its inception and celebrated Tuesday’s approval, even though the bill is not yet law.
“Home passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a decisive victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation and our economy, because we know that averting wildlife threats is more effective — and costs less — than taking emergency action,” said Whit Fosburgh , president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, in a press release.
Brooks, of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, noted that some of the funding could be used for species pursued by hunters and fishermen. For example, animals such as sage grouse and white sturgeon are on Idaho’s list of “species in greatest need for conservation.” But the list, which includes more than 250 animals, also includes critters like the northern Idaho ground squirrel, the Pacific lamprey, and the common loon. More often than not, Brooks said those species share their habitat with animals chased by hunters and fishermen.
“It will directly benefit those species and indirectly free up more athlete dollars for wildlife management,” Brooks said.
In Washington, conservationists estimate that less than 5% of the work needed in the state’s wildlife action plan, which focuses on highest-conservation species, is funded. That includes efforts to help bring iconic species like salmon, steelhead and killer whales out of the south. But also on the list are lesser-known animals such as dwarf rabbits, fishermen and wolverines.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director Kelly Susewind called the House’s approval of the bill “a major step forward for fish and wildlife and a confirmation of the importance of conservation.
“This landmark legislation will be a game changer in Washington – enabling proactive conservation of fish and animal species and their habitats. We hope the Senate will act quickly and enact the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act so that the Department, our partners and the tribes of Washington can get to work.”
The text of the bill is available at: bit.ly/3QpacjZ.