WA congresswoman says no to bill that would send millions to fish and wildlife agencies
A bill that could provide much-needed funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate for consideration.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act passed 231-190 on Tuesday. Representative Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho’s 2nd congressional district, co-sponsored the legislation and voted in favor of it. Fellow Republican Rep. Russ Fulcher of Idaho’s 1st congressional district voted no.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican representing eastern Washington, also voted no.
If approved by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden, the bill that amends the popular Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act would direct the US Treasury’s $1.3 billion annual distribution to state wildlife agencies and $97.5 million to tribal wildlife agencies.
While the formula is subject to change depending on Senate action, as it stands, Idaho would receive about $18 million a year and Washington $21 million. States would continue to receive traditional Pittman-Robertson funding that distributes federal excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to state and tribal wildlife agencies.
Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, called the bill a “generational investment” in fish and wildlife conservation. Many fish and wildlife agencies, such as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, are funded largely by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and tags and a share of taxes excise duty on hunting and fishing equipment. Some, like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, also receive a portion of the state’s general funds.
Wildlife agencies often struggle to fund all of the necessary habitat restoration and conservation activities for the species under their jurisdiction – particularly those associated with species that are neither hunted nor fished and which do not have no dedicated funding sources. As an interim measure, they often divert money from dedicated funding sources to help ‘non-game’ species and fulfill their mandate to protect all species of fish and wildlife.
“It’s a way for anyone who loves wildlife and enjoys their existence to pay for their conservation,” Brooks said. “Athletes have always done it. We all love fish and wildlife, but only sportsmen fund (management and conservation).
The bill directs that funding be given priority to species that are already or are at risk of coming under the protection of the federal endangered species law. 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 often accompany them.
“It would bring a lot more money to Idaho for proactive fish and wildlife conservation and some of the species that haven’t benefited from traditional funding sources,” he said. “One of the purposes of the legislation is to provide resources to de-list species as endangered. So its potential is not only to be a real benefit to Idaho’s wildlife, but to the people of Idaho as well.
Simpson said in a statement that he was happy to help advance a bill originally co-authored and co-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 populations of fish and wildlife, we are making a long-term investment in the future of anglers. and hunters,” he said. “I’m proud that the House of Representatives has come together in a bipartisan fashion to support this measure that one of America’s great anglers and hunters led before he passed away.”
A McMorris Rogers spokesman said inflation and high gas prices led to his opposition.
“While Cathy supports the goal of Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, she believes spending an additional $1.4 billion without planning to pay is irresponsible at this time and will only deepen our economic crisis,” said Kyle VonEnde.
An earlier version of the legislation took a small portion of the royalties companies pay to pump oil and gas from federal lands to pay the bill. But that language was dropped in 2019. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Republicans from Idaho, said through representatives they support conservation but want the bill’s expenses offset. 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 the northern spotted owl, makes the state special.
“This legislation is essential to repair the damage done to our environment and reaffirm our commitment to defend the habitats of our fish and wildlife. We owe it to our children and future generations to ensure this is done, so I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to send this bill to the President’s office.
The legislation has been around since at least 2016 but has yet to pass Congress, despite accumulating more than 140 co-sponsors. Conservation organizations have been pushing for the bill since its inception and celebrated its passage on Tuesday, even though the bill has yet to become law.
“The House’s passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a critical victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation and our economy, because we know it is more effective – and less costly – to prevent wildlife threats than to take emergency action,” said Whit Fosburgh. , president and CEO of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, in a press release.
Brooks of the Idaho Wildlife Federation noted that some of the funding can be used for species pursued by hunters and anglers. For example, animals like sage grouse and white sturgeon are on Idaho’s list of “Species in Most Need of Conservation.” But the list, with more than 250 animals, also includes creatures like the northern Idaho ground squirrel, Pacific lamprey and common loon. Most often, Brooks said, these species share their habitat with animals pursued by hunters and anglers.
“It’s going to directly benefit those species and indirectly more sportsman dollars will be freed up for game species management,” Brooks said.
In Washington, wildlife managers estimate that less than 5% of the work requested in the state wildlife action plan that targets the most protected species is funded. This includes efforts to help iconic species like salmon, rainbow trout and southern resident killer whales. But also on the list are lesser-known animals like dwarf rabbits, fishers and wolverines.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind called the House’s approval of the bill “a big step forward for fish and wildlife and an affirmation of the importance of the conservation”.
“This landmark legislation will be a game-changer in Washington – enabling proactive conservation of fish and wildlife species and their habitats. We hope the Senate will act quickly and pass 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.