Our view: Best wildlife bill in decades is running out of time
From pronghorns to pygmy rabbits, Oregon is blessed with an array of incredible wildlife. Unfortunately, nearly 300 species across the state are at heightened risk and need our help, as they face growing threats from habitat loss, invasive species and climate change.
It's part of a larger national trend in which more than one-third of America's species are edging toward extinction.
Fortunately, Congress is on the cusp of passing the bipartisan Recovering America's Wildlife Act, the most consequential wildlife bill in decades. Nationwide, the bill will provide $1.4 billion annually for proactive, locally led efforts to help at-risk species. It's a solution that matches the magnitude of the wildlife crisis.
The bill will provide more than $26 million annually to Oregon, allowing the state to meaningfully implement its Conservation and Nearshore Strategies. These plans identify Oregon's species at risk and identify science-based solutions to recover them. But even the best plans can't save species without funding.
And right now, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has limited resources to implement these roadmaps for saving Oregon's 300 species of concern, such as western painted turtles. These colorful turtles are declining as wetlands and ponds are lost to development and polluted by urban and farm runoff. Their tiny hatchlings are preyed on by invasive species, while adult turtles are killed by cars. In the Willamette Valley, western pond turtles have declined to just 1% of historic levels.
With 46 species in Oregon already listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act — and many more headed that way unless we act — we need innovative, collaborative approaches to help wildlife like western painted turtles more than ever.
The $26 million annually for Oregon would unleash a new era of conservation for hundreds of additional species like western meadowlarks, Oregon spotted frogs and Pacific fishers.
The bill would also provide the first ever consistent source of funding — $97.5 million annually — for the nearly 600 federally recognized tribes who currently manage wildlife on tens of millions of acres nationwide. This acknowledgment of the tribes' unique knowledge of our nation's natural resources is long overdue.
The Recovering America's Wildlife Act has incredible support across the country and across the aisle. The House bill passed in June, with bipartisan support. The Senate version has more than 40 cosponsors, including 16 Republicans.
Oregon's Congressional delegation has played an instrumental role in getting the bill to this point. Sen. Ron Wyden, as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, identified a bipartisan proposal for how to pay for the bill. Sen. Jeff Merkley strengthened the bill's language in the Environment and Public Works Committee. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, and Kurt Schrader were key backers in the House.
However, we are running out of time to get this bill across the finish line before the session closes at the end of the year. We urge Sen. Wyden and the Oregon delegation to do everything in their power to ensure this landmark legislation is part of the end-of-year package. Oregon's wildlife can't wait.
Curt Melcher is the director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Brenda Meade is the chairman of the Coquille Indian Tribe. Collin O'Mara is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.
Have a thought or opinion on the news of the day? Get on your soapbox and share your opinions with the world. Send us a Letter to the Editor!