The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that could provide much-needed funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies and goes to the Senate for consideration.
America’s Wildlife Recovery Act 231-190 was approved Tuesday. Representative Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho’s second congressional district, co-sponsored the legislation and voted for it. His fellow Republican, Representative Ross Fulcher of Idaho’s 1st congressional district, voted “no.”
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican who represents eastern Washington, also voted “no.”
If approved by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden, the bill amending the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act would direct the annual distribution of $1.3 billion from the US Treasury to state wildlife agencies and $97.5 million to tribal wildlife agencies.
Although the formula is subject to change based on Senate actions, as it stands now, Idaho will receive an estimated $18 million annually and Washington $21 million. States will continue to receive traditional Pittman-Robertson funding that distributes federal production taxes on guns and ammunition to state and tribal wildlife agencies.
Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, described the bill as a “generational investment” in preserving fish and wildlife. Many fish and wildlife agencies, such as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, are funded largely through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and marks and a share of excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear. Some, such as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, also receive a portion of the state’s public funds.
Wildlife agencies often struggle to fund the full range of needed habitat restoration and conservation activities for the species under their control—particularly those associated with species that are not hunted and do not have dedicated funding sources. In a temporary measure, they often divert money from funding sources intended to help “unknown” species and fulfill their mission of protecting all types of fish and wildlife.
“This is a way for anyone else who enjoys wildlife and takes advantage of its presence to pay for its conservation,” Brooks said. “Athletes have been doing this forever. We all love fish and wildlife, but only athletes fund[management and conservation].”
The bill directs priority funding toward species that already exist or are at risk of ending up under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act. Jim Fredericks, deputy director of Idaho Fish and Game, said the legislation, if passed, would help prevent future listings under the ESA and the restrictive regulations that often accompany it.
“It would bring more money to Idaho to proactively conserve fish and wildlife and some species that have not benefited from traditional sources of funding,” he said. “One of the purposes of the legislation is to provide resources to keep the species off the endangered species list. So its potential is not only a real benefit to Idaho wildlife but to the people of Idaho as well.”
Simpson said in a statement that he was happy to help advance a bill co-authored and sponsored by the late Don Young, a Republican congressman from Alaska.
“Idaho’s diverse and healthy wildlife populations provide environmental and economic benefits, and by ensuring strong fish and wildlife populations, we are making a long-term investment in the future for fishermen and fishermen,” he said. “I am proud that the House of Representatives met in a bipartisan manner to support this action led by an American fisherman and fisherman before his death.”
A McMorris Rogers spokesperson said inflation and rising gas prices had led to its opposition.
“While Kathy supports the goal of the Restoration America Wildlife Act, she believes that spending another $1.4 billion with no plans to pay for it is currently irresponsible and will only exacerbate our economic crisis,” said Kyle Funende.
An earlier version of the legislation used a small portion of royalties that companies pay to pump oil and gas from federal lands to foot the bill. But that language was removed in 2019. Senators Mike Crabow and Jim Risch, both Republicans from Idaho, said through representatives that they support conservation but want the bill’s spending to be matched by cuts in other programs.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington supports the bill and said in a statement that Washington’s diverse mix of species, including salmon and northern spotted owls, makes the state special.
“This legislation is necessary to repair the damage done to our environment and reaffirm our commitment to defending the habitats of our fish and wildlife. We owe it to our children and future generations to get this done, so I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to send this bill to the office of the President.”
The legislation has been around since at least 2016 but has yet to pass through Congress, despite a backlog of more than 140 co-sponsors. Conservation organizations have lobbied for the bill since its inception and celebrated its passage on Tuesday, although the bill is not yet law.
“The House’s passage of the Restoration of America’s Wildlife Act is a definite victory for wildlife, habitats, outdoor recreation, and our economy, because we know that avoiding wildlife threats is more effective—and less costly—than taking emergency action,” White Vosberg said. , President and CEO of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, in a press release.
Brooks, of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, noted that some of the funding could be used on species pursued by hunters and hunters. For example, animals like wise grouse and white sturgeon are on Idaho’s list of “species most in need of conservation.” But the list, with more than 250 animals, also includes creatures such as the northern Idaho ground squirrel, Pacific lamprey and sea lion. Oftentimes, Brooks said, these species share a habitat with animals pursued by hunters and hunters.
“It will benefit those genres directly, and indirectly more athlete dollars will be freed up to manage game genres,” Brooks said.
In Washington, wildlife managers estimate that less than 5% of the work needed in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan targeting species with the largest conservation is funded. This includes efforts to help popular species such as the southern resident salmon and killer whales. But also on the menu are lesser known animals such as pygmy rabbits, hunters and wolverines.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Suswind described the House’s approval of the bill as “a major step forward for fish and wildlife and an affirmation of the importance of conservation.”
“This landmark legislation will be a game-changer in Washington – enabling the proactive conservation of fish, wildlife species and their habitats. We hope the Senate will act quickly and pass the Restoration of America’s Wildlife into law so that the department, our partners, and the Washington tribes can act.”
Invoice text available at bit.ly/3QpacjZ.