By John Bradley
The warning signs are there for America’s wildlife and if you listen close, you can hear the alarm bells ringing. Across the nation, over a third of wildlife species are at a heightened risk of extinction. Here in North Dakota, the Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) has identified 115 species in need of conservation priority including our state bird the western meadowlark, sharp-tailed and sage grouse, foxes, and river otters, as well as a host of grassland birds, insects, and pollinators.
The primary reason for these population declines isn’t a secret. Anyone who takes to the fields can see habitat is being lost at an alarming rate. Conversion of grasslands, destruction of wetlands, and urban development have degraded habitat and disrupted wildlife migration. The National Wildlife Federation recently released a report which showed that nationwide game species lost 6.5 million acres of vital habitat over the last two decades. In fact, more than one third of America’s wildlife face some degree of extinction risk. The good news is that Congress is in position to pass a bipartisan solution as big as the problems wildlife face.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), which has passed both a Senate and House committee with strong bipartisan support, would dedicate $1.4 billion toward locally led efforts to help fish and wildlife species in decline. All without raising our taxes. The bill would send more than $14.1 million annually to NDG&F which will use the money to help the state’s at-risk wildlife species, including pallid sturgeon, bighorn sheep, and the northern pintail. The bill will also provide funding to North Dakota’s federally recognized tribes so that they could ramp up their work to help at-risk wildlife species on tribal lands.
More than a third of the members of the House and Senate are already signed on to the bill. With strong support from both sides of the aisle, it stands a good chance of passing – we just need to make sure it gets time on the floor for a vote. This bill should appeal to the entire North Dakota congressional delegation – Senators Hoeven and Cramer, and Representative Armstrong. First and foremost, the bill would not raise your taxes, but it would do wonders to prevent the decline of at-risk fish and wildlife species. That means more pollinators in our farm fields, more gamefish in our rivers, more birds in our skies, and more happy landowners and sportsmen and women. It’s hard to argue with that.
RAWA is also incredibly cost effective. In fact, it would save money in the long run by preventing species from declining to the point where they qualify for a federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing. Avoiding ESA listings is critical to keep our economy and agricultural way of life intact. An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. The bill would also help the economy. For one thing, the bill would help NDG&F invest in voluntary habitat restoration on private lands by interested farmers, ranchers, and other landowners; providing them with extra cash to help implement grazing systems, improve soil health, and other implement conservation practices that benefit their bottom line and wildlife.
Lastly, the bill would also be a blessing to hunters and anglers. To help at-risk songbirds, pollinators, insects, and amphibians, the bill will fund efforts to improve the health of North Dakota’s wetland and grassland habitats. Our game species such as deer, sharp-tailed grouse, ducks, and pheasants, as well as our favorite game fish will enjoy these restored habitats too. That’s why every major hunting and fishing conservation organization in the country is backing this bill. More game to chase, more fish to catch, more birds to watch, and more places to hike, hunt, trap, and camp. This would benefit North Dakota’s $1.1 billion outdoor recreation economy while making our state an even nicer place to raise our children and grandchildren. It is time for this bi-partisan, common sense, and cost-effective bill to cross the finish line.
John Bradley is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.
Featured Photo: The efforts which would be funded by the passage of RAWA would benefit threatened and endangered species as well as popular game birds and huntable big game. NDWF Photo.