Montana would get a significant boost from Congress with a new piece of bipartisan legislation introduced last Friday.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was introduced again on July 12 by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, (D-Mich.) and U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) along with 40 Democratic and 20 Republican cosponsors. Passage of this bill could provide $1.3 billion in annual funds to state wildlife agencies for conserving wildlife and habitat, increasing wildlife associated recreation opportunities, and increasing conservation education programs. Funding for the legislation would require a 25 percent non-federal match.
The legislation is the result of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources, which met three times in 2015 to come up with ways to diversify wildlife management funding in America. The panel was comprised of people representing various interests including the energy industry, retail giants and some of the nation’s most influential conservation leaders. The panel was co-chaired by John Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, and David Freudenthal, former governor of Wyoming.
“Today we find ourselves facing wildlife species declines that could alter our children’s and grandchildren’s opportunities to enjoy these resources,” said Ed Carter, President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “By investing in our State Wildlife Action Plans, which contain prioritized actions for restoring and managing the most imperiled species within our states’ borders, we will be ensuring future generations can enjoy our rich wildlife heritage. In essence, we are performing preventative maintenance, addressing concerns before they become a crisis. It is by far the most economical way to proceed and the chance of success is exponentially greater.”
Most wildlife falls under management of the state wildlife agencies, like Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. These agencies are largely funded by hunter and angler dollars, collected through a variety of sources including license and user fees and federal excise taxes on hunting, angling and sporting equipment. Over the last 80 years, this money has funded the recovery of many game species across the West, including westslope cutthroat trout, elk, and bighorn sheep, as well as nongame species such as the bald eagle and peregrine falcon. In Montana, this funding also goes toward monitoring species critical to our economy, livelihood, and unique Montana landscape such as bats, sage grouse, and golden eagles. Expenditure of any new funds would be guided by the State Wildlife Act Plan, direction from the citizen commission and legislative approval.
The bill introduced in the 116th Congress looks different from the bill introduced previously in order to honor conservation efforts by entities other than state wildlife management agencies and to allow for a more flexible funding source.
In this version of the bill, tribal nations would receive $97.5 million annually to fund proactive wildlife conservation efforts. A minimum of 10 percent of the funding apportioned to states must be used to recover federally threatened or endangered species. Ten percent of the total funding apportioned to states must be allocated through a competitive grants program. Grants will be awarded to state and U.S. territory fish and wildlife agencies, or regional fish and wildlife associations implementing the most effective and innovative projects for conservation of fish and wildlife. Instead of the funding coming specifically from energy development revenues and fees, it will come from the general U.S. Treasury fund. Even with these changes, Montana would receive more than $25 million dollars for proactive conservation and recovery of federally listed species.
“Imagine a source of funding that allows states to better steward wildlife and habitat so that the species won’t need the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said FWP Director Martha Williams. “Imagine a renewed focus on partnerships in wildlife education so that we can help get kids outside. Or even, imagine Montana having the funds to best steward the resources that make Montana so special.”
Visit FWP’s website for more information on Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the great work Montana has done with existing sources of funding. http://fwp.mt.gov/