Explaining America’s Wildlife Restoration Act

The Biden administration is about to enact a law The largest part of climate legislation Ever, after the Senate passed Inflation Reduction Act Sunday by back-to-back vote on party lines. But there is actually another huge piece of environmental legislation that could soon become law — and it has bipartisan support.

known by the acronym RAWA, Restoration of America’s Wildlife Act It will save approximately $1.4 billion annually to restore wildlife populations across the country. In essence, RAWA addresses a big problem: more than Third The plants and animals of the nation are threatened with extinction, from monarch butterfly for the Florida tiger, endangering outdoor recreation and the ecosystems Americans depend on.

The bill isn’t just an animal-loving fantasy: The House passed it in June on Bipartisan VotingIt is prepared to vacate the Senate, wherever it may be 16 Joint Republican SponsorThis fall.

In contrast to climate-focused legislation, RAWA has a broad base of support, in part because it appeals to fishermen and fishermen, many of whom are conservative. It also gives states the power to decide how the money is spent. In addition, the recreation associated with wildlife is 140 billion dollars industry, so protecting plants and animals comes with a strong economic incentive.

Monarch butterfly larva on milkweed plant in Markham, Ontario, Canada.
Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

To put this into perspective: RAWA will be the largest wildlife legislation since the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which is credited with saving grizzly bears, gray wolves and dozens of other beloved American animals from extinction, Senator Martin said. Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico.

“It would be a real shame if we didn’t take advantage of this,” said Senator Heinrich, who introduced the bill to the Senate last summer, alongside Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.

By transferring funds to wildlife conservation, RAWA will protect thousands of plants and animals before They are in imminent danger of extinction, according to Heinrich and environmental experts. Ultimately, this can save taxpayers money.

Here’s how it will work – and why RAWA is an acronym worth knowing.

Why the United States struggled to prevent the decline of wildlife

Much of the work to protect the animals falls on the shoulders of state wildlife agencies. They have a range of programs for monitoring and managing groups of plants and animals that include Re-Introduction of Locally Extinct Species And the development of regulations for hunting and fishing. However, these agencies have only been able to help a small segment of the country’s endangered animals – more than 12000 species In the United States they still need protection, according to state wildlife agencies.

The first problem is money. severely 80 percent State-led conservation funding comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, as well as federal excise taxes on related equipment, such as rifles and ammunition. But these activities are not as common as they used to be. In the early 1980s, for example, hunters made up 7.2% of the US population. By 2020, that percentage has dropped to 4.2 percent, according to the environmental advocacy group Wildlife for everyone.

The state’s conservation is funded by a client-based model, said Andrew Ripple, a professor of biology at the University of California, Davis. In the past few decades, he said, “the customer base has been declining.” “This results in less conservation work being done.”

Another problem is how state agencies spend this dwindling money. Almost all of the money for conservation is funneled to animals that people love to hunt or hunt, such as elk and trout, said Daniel Rolfe, a law professor at Lewis and Clark Law School. This leaves countless other species, many of which are endangered. “At the state level, there has been almost no focus on fish and wildlife out of the game,” Rolfe said.

A fisherman holds a small brown trout he caught along a river in Vermont.
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Fish that has no commercial value is a good example, Ripple said. “There’s a whole bunch of fish species that nobody really cares about, that people call rough fish,” he said. These are the species like fresh water cylinder And the big lollipop Which have no commercial value but usually serve vital role in the ecosystem. “A lot of them have regressed over time and never worked because they don’t fit into this customer-driven model,” he said.

This is why researchers like Rypel are so excited about RAWA: The bill seeks to solve both of these problems by providing funding to protect all endangered plants and animals.

Every state will get millions of dollars to spend on conservation

The bill would disperse a total of more than $1.3 billion each year among state wildlife agencies, based on state size, population, and number of federally threatened species. California, for example, can get more than $50 million a year, while Vermont or New Hampshire — where there are fewer animals at risk — can get nearly $10 million.

The idea is that this money will pay 75% of each state Wildlife Action Plan. These are official charts, drafted by each state in 2005, detailing which species are at risk and how the agency plans to keep them off the federal endangered species list.

New York State planfor example, includes 366 species in need of protection, such as wooden rattlesnake and the Salt sparrow And a wide range of measures to protect them. This includes things like reducing pollution and protecting forests, wetlands, and other habitats.

Historically this business The plans were seriously underfunded: states could only pay about 5 percent or less of them. RAWA seeks to fix that. The bill would also require states to contribute 25 percent of matching funds from other sources, such as license plate sales (so a state receiving $10 million from the government would pay an additional $2.5 million).

Males of two prairie chickens, an endangered species, fight for land in a Kansas grassland.
Michael Pierce/Wichita Eagle/News Tribune via Getty Images

One feature of RAWA that makes it so important, experts say, is that it requires states to protect animals at risk, whether or not they are targeted by poachers and poachers. “That funding doesn’t exist right now,” Rolfe said. Money can provide a lifeline to endangered salamanders, songbirds, and countless other non-game animals, such as law Project It states “the greatest need for conservation”.

RAWA also aims to restore wildlife populations before they are in danger of extinction, to avoid having to list the animals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, which comes with all kinds of regulatory burdens and costs. “It is often more costly to take action once a species is endangered than it is to take action when it is unwell,” said Brent Keith, senior policy advisor at the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit organization promoting the new legislation.

The law could help New York protect the fragile swamp sparrow habitat, for example, according to Amanda Rodwald, senior director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This could ensure that birds, which are in decline, are not listed as endangered, and could also benefit coastal communities that rely on salt marshes to help put out floods during storms.

“There are a lot of common threats or stresses facing wildlife and human societies,” she said. “We can’t just separate our needs.”

This is another reason why RAWA has bipartisan support. It will help states avoid federal government interference to manage the species, which conservative lawmakers tend to oppose.

‘Game-changing’ for clans

RAWA also includes nearly $100 million for the country’s Native American tribes, which own or help manage approximately 140 million acres of the land in the United States (equivalent to about 7 percent of the area of ​​the continental United States).

“It really is a game-changer,” said Julie Thorstenson, executive director of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.

Countries 574 tribe Managing hundreds of threatened species, some of their citizens depend closely on wildlife for food. However, they don’t receive federal money to keep from indirect taxes, as states do, even though Native Americans pay those taxes themselves when they buy guns and other hunting gear, Thorstenson said.

Don Reiter holding a small bear cub.

Wildlife biologist Don Reiter, a member of the Wisconsin-based Menominee Indian tribe, has studied the environment of black bears for decades.
Courtesy of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Association

“There is no core funding for the tribes,” she told Vox, referring to the funds for protection. Instead, tribal governments have to raise funding from a variety of different sources and compete with each other for small federal grants. “Inequality in funding tribal fish and wildlife is one of the most important and least well-known issues in the field of conservation,” Thorstenson said.

Although $100 million from RAWA provides tribes with far less money than states, it will eliminate these inequalities. “It’s not enough, but it’s a start,” Thorstenson said.

How likely are you to pass RAWA?

Our biggest obstacle is finding a way to offset RAWA’s hefty price tag. It would cost the government nearly $14 billion over the next decade, and the bill would make the funding permanent.

In previous negotiations, lawmakers have proposed paying the RAWA fee by filling in loopholes in charitable tax breaks for people who maintain undeveloped land, which some wealthy individuals have taken advantage of. (Has Peter Elkind from ProPublica wrote a lot About what he calls the “tax trick that won’t die.”)

This strategy likely won’t make enough money, Keith said. Meanwhile, Senator Heinrich declined to share details about the potential payment. “We continue to have active conversations with both the Finance Committee as well as the leadership in the Senate,” he told Vox. “I do not think so [the pay-for] It would be an obstacle to getting it done.”

If lawmakers find a way to offset the cost of RAWA, it could be voted on as soon as September. Environmental experts are confident the law will pass; With more than a dozen Republican sponsors participating in the Senate, she is likely to have more than 60 votes.

This is something to celebrate, Ripple said. “You just don’t hear about a lot of bipartisan bills anymore,” he said. “It could be a very good thing for our country to pass effective and robust legislation in today’s polarized age.”

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