Friday, June 30, 2017
By Mark Carter
A suite of conservation bills has been introduced into the U.S. Senate just ahead of the Fourth of July break that would boost conservation efforts and benefit wildlife habitat.
The legislative package -- S. 1514 -- proposes to reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act; authorize the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act; reauthorize the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the nation’s largest provider of conservation grants; and reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Program.
It also includes a provision to officially delist the gray wolf in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes region, where wolf populations have rebounded by as much as 300 percent. Delisting has been recommended by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
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The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership calls the suite of bills the "strongest legislative package of sportsmen’s priorities in years."
The bills have broad bipartisan support. Lead sponsor Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) introduced the package on Thursday and as of Friday, the bills were awaiting hearing in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Cosponsoring the bills package are Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Shelley Capito (R-West Virginia), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), John Boozman (R-Arkansas) and Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act is a grant program that matches each federal dollar invested with non-federal dollars. It was created in 1987 under President Reagan, and under the proposed package would be funded at $50 million annually through 2022.
The Chesapeake Bay program is a regional partnership that includes federal and state agencies, local governments, non-profit organizations and academic institutions. It works to reduce pollution, restore habitats, manage fisheries and protect watersheds, and would be funded at $90 million annually through 2022 if legislation is passed.
“A healthy bay means a healthy economy for Maryland and the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed region, which cannot be accomplished without a reliable federal partner," Cardin said in a statement. Capito noted that the bay's headwaters in West Virginia sustain important ecosystems and play a vital role in the state’s economy.
Whit Fosburgh, TRCP president and CEO, praised the package as one that actually gets things done.
“What makes this effort different from sportsmen’s packages of the more recent past is that, right from the outset, it deals with meaningful conservation priorities by reauthorizing and instituting programs that will actually enhance fish and wildlife populations, habitat, and access,” he said.