A bill that could provide much-needed funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies has passed the US House of Representatives and moves on to the Senate for consideration.
The American Wildlife Recovery Act passed 231-190 on Tuesday. Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho’s 2nd congressional district, co-sponsored the legislation and voted in favor. His Republican colleague, 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 amending the popular 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 action, as it stands now, Idaho would receive an estimated $18 million annually and Washington $21 million. States would continue to receive traditional Pittman-Robertson funds that distribute federal excise taxes on guns 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 financed in large part by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and tags and a portion of excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. Some, like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, also receive a portion of the state’s general fund.
Wildlife agencies often struggle to fund the full range of necessary species conservation and habitat restoration activities under their authority, especially those associated with species that are not hunted or fished and do not have dedicated funding sources. . In a stopgap 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.
“This is a way for everyone else who enjoys wildlife and benefits from its existence to pay for its conservation,” Brooks said. “Athletes have been doing it forever. We all love fish and wildlife, but only sportsmen are funding (management and conservation).”
The bill mandates that funding be prioritized toward species that are already under or 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, will help prevent future listings under the ESA and the restrictive regulations that often accompany them.
“It would bring much more money to Idaho for proactive conservation of fish and wildlife and some of the species that have not benefited from traditional funding sources,” he said. “One of the purposes of the legislation is to provide resources to keep species off the endangered species list. So its potential is not only to be a real benefit to wildlife in Idaho, but also to the people of Idaho.”
Simpson said in a statement to the Tribune that he was pleased 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 strong fish and wildlife populations, we are making a long-term investment in the future for anglers and hunters,” he said. “I am proud that the House of Representatives has come together in a bipartisan manner to support this measure that was spearheaded by one of America’s great fishermen and hunters before his passing.”
A McMorris Rogers spokesman said inflation and high gas prices led her to oppose it.
“While Cathy supports the goal of the America’s Wildlife Recovery Act, she believes that spending another $1.4 billion without payment plans is irresponsible at this time and will only make our economic crisis worse,” said Kyle VonEnde.
An earlier version of the legislation leveraged a small portion of the royalties companies pay to extract oil and gas from federal lands to foot the bill. But that language was removed in 2019. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Republicans from Idaho, said through representatives that they support conservation but want the bill’s spending to be offset by cuts to other programs.
Sen. Patty Murray supports the bill, saying in a statement to the Tribune that Washington’s diverse mix of species, including salmon and northern spotted owls, make the state special.
“This legislation is critical to repairing the damage done to our environment and reaffirming our commitment to defending the habitats of our fish and wildlife. We owe it to our children and future generations to do this, so I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to get this bill to the President’s desk.”
The legislation has been around since at least 2016, but has yet to make it through Congress, despite a backlog of more than 140 co-sponsors. Conservation organizations have been pushing for the bill since its inception and celebrated Tuesday’s passage, though the bill is not yet law.
“Passage of the American Wildlife Recovery Act is a definitive victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation, and our economy, because we know avoiding wildlife threats is more effective , and it costs less, than taking emergency measures,” 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 funds may be used on species targeted by hunters and fishermen. For example, animals such as 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 like the northern Idaho ground squirrel, the Pacific lamprey and the loon. Most of the time, Brooks said, those species share habitat with animals hunted by hunters and fishermen.
“It’s going to directly benefit those species and indirectly free up more of the sportsman’s dollars for managing game species,” Brooks said.
In Washington, wildlife managers estimate that less than 5% of the work called for in the state’s wildlife action plan that targets the most highly conserved species is being funded. That 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 pygmy rabbits, fishermen, and wolverines.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind called the House’s passage of the bill “a huge step forward for fish and wildlife and an affirmation of the importance of conservation.
“This landmark legislation will be a game changer in Washington by enabling the proactive conservation of fish and wildlife species and their habitats. We hope the Senate will act quickly and pass the America’s Wildlife Restoration 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.