Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Calling it the single biggest investment into wildlife and habitat restoration in more than half a century, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., announced this week the Senate introduction of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which if enacted would funnel more than $1 billion to conservation efforts each year.
Heinrich, along with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, joined wildlife advocates and others on a conference call this week to drum up support for the legislation, which would call for there to be $1.3 billion available to states and $97 million available to tribes for restoration and conservation projects each year.
The bill would fund projects outlined in congressionally mandated state wildlife action plans, Heinrich said.
For example, he said riparian, aquatic and wetland restoration projects needed in northern New Mexico could be funded by the effort.
“There are more projects that exist … than we can afford to support right now,” he said. “There just isn’t the funding stream. But there is a large amount of demand.”
The legislation would create a specific subaccount for wildlife conservation and restoration. The bill calls for the secretary of treasury to transfer $1.3 billion from the general fund to the conservation and restoration account each year beginning in fiscal year 2022. That money would come from civil and criminal penalties, sanctions, fines and other revenue collected as a result of violations of environment and natural resource laws.
Heinrich said the 10-year average of those fines and fees tracks with how much spending the bill envisions.
“Progress could be made by using penalties in this area,” Blunt said.
Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, introduced companion legislation in the House. Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said the legislation could not come at a more important time. By some estimates, one-third of America’s wildlife species are at risk, including iconic animals like the bald eagle and the monarch butterfly, he said.
“Whether you love wildlife watching in your backyard or on a hike, or if you’re a hunter (or) angler, this bill will help the species that matter to you and conserve them for future generations,” O’Mara said.