Tribal fish and wildlife leaders visit DC to urge Congress to invest in tribal conservation through passage of America’s Wildlife Recovery Act
Leaders in tribal fish and wildlife management visited the Capitol last week to meet with Congress about the importance of the US Wildlife Recovery Act to Tribal Nations. If passed, the bipartisan bill will provide $97.5 million to tribes and $1.3 billion to states and territories each year for on-the-ground conservation.
The Recovery of America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) was developed in response to findings that 12,000 species in the United States are considered “in greatest need of conservation.” By allocating funds to conservation projects on the ground, this landmark bill aims to proactively prevent species from becoming endangered. RAWA is monumental legislation for another reason as well, it would provide the first dedicated annual funding to support tribal fish and wildlife conservation.
“We were never included,” said Gloria Tom, director of the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife, “until now.”
Tribes have fought for decades to be included in major conservation funds, but have been left out of programs like the Federal Aid for Wildlife Restoration and Sport Fish Restoration Acts. This tribal delegation continues to advocate for funding equity by asking Congress to prioritize passage of RAWA this year.
Demonstrated management success despite challenges
Tribes manage or influence the management of nearly 140 million acres of land and water that are home to more than 500 threatened or endangered species. And the tribes manage these lands successfully. According to the Native Land Information System, while tribal lands make up 2.6% of the United States, they overlap with 12% of key biological areas.
Repeatedly, the tribes demonstrate successes in managing fish and wildlife. For example, restoration efforts by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and their partners kept the red sickle-fin horse, a culturally important species found only in western North Carolina, off the Endangered Species List. extinction.
Despite their achievements, tribal natural resources departments face challenges, many of which stem from a lack of funding.
“Inequities in funding for tribal fish and wildlife programs are probably one of the most obvious but least talked about issues in conservation,” said the executive director of the Los Angeles Fish and Wildlife Society. Native Americans, Julie Thorstenson, PhD.
Without a consistent funding base, tribes often experience staff shortages and high turnover rates. Wisconsin’s Menominee Indian Tribe has the largest reservation east of the Mississippi River at 235,000 acres, but for 32 years, Don Reiter has been the tribe’s only wildlife biologist. While the Tribe has done outstanding work, including managing black bears for 30 years, Reiter says, “We are being asked to do more with less.”
Lack of funding can also affect a tribe’s ability to collaborate with other agencies and across borders. It can be difficult for tribes or states alone to achieve conservation successes like the red sickle horse. However, RAWA is an opportunity to build tribal capacity to hire and retain staff, expand fish and wildlife programs, and build partnerships.
Support for conservation and tribal economies
RAWA will not only protect species of ecological, cultural and economic importance, it is an investment in tribes and local economies. When funds reach Tribes, they can be trusted to support local economies as they purchase supplies and services from local vendors and hire members of the local community at a rate equal to or higher than other organizations.
According to Modoc Nation Director of Development and Resources Ken Sandusky, the Modoc Nation has invested more than $1 million in the past two years in its Homelands Initiative, nearly all of it spent within its traditional Northern California Homelands and the southern Oregon.
Boosting local economies and creating jobs, dollars spent in Indian Country stay in Indian Country, often serving the most underserved communities. RAWA is an investment in tribal conservation, communities and economies.
Time to invest in tribes
Passage of the America’s Wildlife Recovery Act will help tribes in their unique position of leading wildlife conservation efforts with a long history of stewardship, traditional ecological perspectives, and some of the most innovative natural resource programs and successful in the country. Additionally, investments in Indian Country are increased tenfold with innovative conservation management and contributions to local economies.
With only a few weeks left in the legislative session, time is running out. Now is the time to invest in Tribes.