Bill in Congress would protect species before they’re endangered

Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service

SEATTLE — What if states had the resources to prevent animals from ending up on the Endangered Species list?

A bill introduced in Congress aims to do just that. Known as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, it would fund states’ wildlife management efforts before species are in dire need of help.

The co-sponsors — Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan — say about 12,000 species nationwide could benefit from this approach.

Dave Werntz, science and conservation director for Conservation Northwest, says managing wildlife before it’s on the brink gives officials much more flexibility.

“For instance, smaller populations are at much greater risk of environmental events, factors that are affecting inbreeding and so forth,” he points out. “So, if you are able to take actions before a species is close to the edge of extinction, you’re just going to have a lot more options to work with.”

Werntz says Washington state management plans have helped species such as the fisher and sharp-tailed grouse.

The $1.3 billion in funding for the bill would come from an existing tax paid by energy and resource industries for the right to develop on federal lands that generates $10 billion annually.

It would raise money for Washington state’s conservation efforts from $1 million to about $26.5 million.

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, maintains addressing problems before using the Endangered Species list is a smarter way to preserve wildlife.

He notes representatives from both sides of the aisle have voiced support.

“There’s obviously an intrinsic value and responsibility to save these species,” he states. “But from an economic point of view, if we have a solution that’s going to reduce regulatory uncertainty and really bolster the economy overall, that could be a home run.”

The bill lays out a plan to provide 75 percent of the funding for preservation programs, and only requires states to pay one-quarter of the cost.

Washington News Service is a part of the Public News Service, an independent member-supported national news service based in Boulder, Colo., that distributes public interest news and information. Support comes from grants, gifts and memberships from individuals, foundations, nonprofit organizations and businesses for social responsibility.