Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will secure a future for imperiled birds

The Great Gray Owl is a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in AK, CA, ID, OR, WA, and WY based on warming climate projections and logging practices that remove large-diameter trees needed for nesting. This adult was spotted on the Idaho-Montana divide at 8,500 feet.

The fate of one of the most consequential wildlife conservation bills you’ve never heard of awaits a floor vote in the Senate. I’m hoping you, esteemed Choruser, will help get this bill over the finish line.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) (HR 2773; S. 2372) will provide $1.39 billion in annual dedicated funding to states, tribes, territories, and community-based organizations to stabilize and recover declining species and the ecosystems that support them. No hyperbole — this is landmark, once-in-a-generation legislation that ramps up our nation’s investment in its biodiversity and safeguards imperiled species from further declines.

Many crises are afoot in our nation, but one crisis that always seems subordinate in the media, in State of the Union addresses, in party platforms, or in the national dialogue is America’s looming wildlife crisis. The sad fact is – many of America’s wildlife species are in serious decline.

… as many as one-third of the United States’ 200,000+ wildlife and plant species are vulnerable, with one in five imperiled and at high risk of extinction.

… state wildlife action plans collectively have identified nearly 12,000 species nationwide that need conservation attention and action.

Reversing America’s Wildlife Crisis (National Wildlife Federation, The Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society)

Particularly hard hit have been freshwater fish and mussels, amphibians, bats, pollinators, and our passion at Dawn Chorus — birds. Lest we forget, a 2019 study estimated a loss of nearly 3 billion breeding adult birds in the US and Canada since 1970.

Why is RAWA funding needed?

Stately Sandhill Cranes are a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in ID, IL, IN, KY, NE, and OH.

To start with, state fish and wildlife agencies derive most of their revenue from hunting and fishing licenses/tags and a companion federal match source (Pittman-Robinson & Dingell-Johnson). These funds cannot be expended on “nongame” species, such as songbirds, raptors, amphibians, reptiles, bats, or invertebrates.

The federal State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program currently available to states to implement their State Wildlife Action Plans allocates about $50-65M per year, split among 50 states and 14 territories. This annual distribution is estimated to be less than five percent of what is needed to conserve the 12,000 species identified nationwide as Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Scant funding means states must focus on only a few species, as others become more imperiled. With the accelerating loss of biodiversity, a new, more equitable and proactive funding model is needed.

How would it work?

CA, IL, IN, MI, MN, and WI are states that recognize the Yellow-headed Blackbird as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

The recovery work funded by RAWA will be guided by State Wildlife Action Plans, which are state blueprints identifying recovery actions for Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Funding allocations will be based on a formula considering a state’s population size and land area. For example, annual allocations would be: Alaska = $57.4M, Arizona = $31M, Michigan = $28M, New Hampshire = $11M, and Texas = $57M. RAWA funds will require a 25% nonfederal match, which may be leveraged by state agencies, universities, non-governmental organizations, and in-kind services.

Funds can be used for wildlife research and monitoring; on-the-ground habitat restoration; wildlife education and recreation supporting species conservation; control of invasive species, pathogens, and diseases threatening at-risk species; voluntary conservation on private lands; law enforcement to protect at-risk wildlife; and other related projects and programs.

RAWA’s funding will come from existing revenues the government receives from the leasing of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters.

Tribal nations would receive $97.5M annually to work on at-risk species recovery on ~140 million acres of land.

Other layered benefits of RAWA

  • RAWA promotes cost-efficient, proactive, voluntary, and non-regulatory conservation.
  • RAWA is forecasted to create >30,000 jobs and generate over $93B in total economic activity.
  • RAWA transcends political boundaries and brings diverse stakeholders to the table to develop collaborative conservation solutions.
  • RAWA engages and incentivizes industry and private landowners to restore and enhance critical habitat.

RAWA passed the House on June 14, 2022 on a vote of 231-190. Prospects for passing in the Senate look good; S. 2372 has garnered rare bipartisan support, with 16 Republicans signed on as cosponsors (here’s hoping Republican Senators don’t hold this bill hostage as political vendetta for the Schumer-Manchin climate bill, as they dishonorably did with the PACT Act).

RAWA has also gained strong support from a wide array of business, conservation, and governmental interests. listed here.

The Common Nighthawk is no longer “common” possibly due to chemical control of insect populations. It is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 27 states stretching from Oregon to Florida.

My reasons for supporting RAWA

Harlequin Ducks face multiple threats from human disturbance, altered stream flows, exposure to pollutants, and climate change. They are a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in CA, ID, ME, MA, MT, NY, OR, RI, WA, and WY.

I spent a good part of three decades working as a field biologist for the state fish & wildlife agencies of Oregon and Idaho, including as a member of the team that developed the first and second iterations of the Idaho State Wildlife Action Plan. I am deeply invested in this pending legislation because the wildlife diversity-nongame programs of these and other state fish & wildlife agencies have been starved of funding for far too long! Consider that Idaho Fish & Game’s Wildlife Diversity Program works to protect nearly 10,000 species (~98% of Idaho’s native biodiversity), yet the program receives less than 3% of the total Fish & Game budget!

My laughably Spartan annual budget only allowed “triage” of conservation priorities, meaning that scores of vulnerable species did not receive the conservation attention they urgently needed and deserved. But an infusion of an eye-popping $16.5M per year into the Idaho Wildlife Diversity Program’s current $2M per year budget is a massive gamechanger! Scaled up to all 50 states and 14 territories, that level of investment will enable the recovery of thousands of imperiled species.

RAWA funds may be used to develop interpretive signs highlighting conservation for at-risk species and their habitats. This sign in Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley informs visitors about nesting Sandhill Cranes.
Short-eared Owls need large, open, undisturbed grasslands for breeding and nesting, habitats under enormous pressure for development. Thirty-seven states have designated this beautiful owl a Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

check out your State Wildlife Action Plan at this link to view the wildlife designated as “Species of Conservation Need” that are poised to benefit from RAWA.

Loss and fragmentation of forested wetlands in the eastern US and mangroves on its wintering grounds have warranted Species of Greatest Conservation Need status for the Prothonotary Warbler in 26 states.

If you are so inclined (oh, please be inclined!), call, email or write your US Senators and ask them to support S. 2372. If your Senator has already cosponsored the bill, consider calling their office to thank them (especially fist-bumping Republican Senators)! Contact US Senate

Thanks Chorusers for indulging my soapbox and plea for action

Now…on to YOU!

Which bird among your state’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need is your favorite or one you’d like to add to your life list?

Please share what’s flying, perching, swimming, posing, singing, nesting, feeding, hiding, migrating, molting, skulking, etc. in your habitat!

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