Monday, September 25, 2023
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Perilously low funding for endangered species puts Congress into action

Congress provides only about 3.5% of the funding that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to recover species, according to a study. A series of bills considered in a House Committee hearing on Thursday would increase funding as well as protections to endangered wildlife. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — Multimillion-dollar funding is on the table as lawmakers consider a series of bills that would address underfunded projects to protect endangered wildlife. 

“We do a remarkable job saving species when we put our mind to it, and when we invest,” Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife on Thursday. “Unfortunately, we’re only investing in a small number of the species in need, and we are headed for an irreversible disaster if we don’t act now.”

Around the globe, an unprecedented 1 million species are at a heightened risk of extinction. In the United States, it's more than one-third of species — including over 40% of freshwater fish and 30% of bird populations. 

O’Mara said that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, ranging from large mammals to butterflies to freshwater mussels, but history shows we can remedy it. 

“While preventing extinctions and recovering wildlife are huge undertakings, targeted efforts can make enormous headway,” said Erika Zavaleta, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, describing the coordinated actions by federal state and tribal agencies that brought the California condor back from extinction in the wild. 

But, Zavaleta says, there needs to be targeted funding. 

Out of the 15 bills under consideration at the hearing Thursday, the biggest chunk of funding could come from Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a bill that would provide $1.4 billion annually to states and tribes to restore essential habitats to 12,000 species that State Wildlife Action Plans have identified as in need of conservation.

“That’s what this does: it empowers the states,” said Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, the bill’s lead sponsor. 

The bill passed through the committee last year 26-6, but died before getting a full vote in the House. 

Congress today appropriates about $60 million in wildlife grants to states each year. A 2016 study by the Center for Biological Diversity found that Congress provides only about 3.5% of the funding that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to recover species. As the funds are insufficient to make a dent in wildlife protection, many states secure additional funding through general appropriations or creative solutions like lottery funds or speciality license plates. 

Steve Guertin, deputy director for policy at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, testifies Thursday at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing that introduced over a dozen new bills to help protect endangered wildlife. (Image via Courthouse News)

Another bill slated for consideration is the Extinction Prevention Act, which would create four grant programs, each providing $5 million per year to fund critically endangered North American butterflies, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian plants. 

Other bills would provide $125 million in emergency funding to save the western population of monarch butterflies from extinction, create grant programs funded at $5 million each to protect endangered amphibians and strengthen a successful marine mammal rescue program

“The global extinction crisis is ravaging life on earth, so it’s heartening to see Congress begin to address the devastating decline of wildlife,” Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement

While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services supported the majority of the legislation, it noted that some of the bills weren’t necessary — like a bill that would prohibit the import, export and interstate trade of bear parts. Bear organs are sold around the world for nontraditional medicinal purposes, and their sale has caused rapid declines in Asian bear populations. 

In testimony in front of the committee, Deputy Director for Policy for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Stephen Guertin said that the service appreciates the intent of the legislation but that the Lacey Act is already an effective tool in dealing with illegally traded black bear parts. 

Guertin also questioned a bill that would prohibit people from owning primates, citing doubts about the service’s ability to meet the extended enforcement mandate that the bill would create and predicting that it would jeopardize the service’s main objectives to conserve endangered wildlife populations. 

Categories / Environment, Financial, Government

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