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Joplin Globe (Editorial): A new model for wildlife conservation

December 14, 2021

It’s great to see bipartisanship breaking out in Washington, D.C. We had put it with the California condor and the whooping crane among the nation’s endangered species.

Last week, U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on behalf of RAWA — the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. It would provide $1.3 billion in annual funding for American wildlife, with the money coming from fines collected from enforcement actions against those that violate environmental regulations.

First, there was agreement on the problem, with both sides acknowledging that we are facing an extinction crisis. That is a victory. Second, both also acknowleged that the loss of bilogical diversity threatens our economies, our health and our environment.

Heinrich and Blunt also said there are 12,000 species in this country in need of assistance, with Heinrich noting that despite some past successes, too many species remain on a path to extinction. “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change this paradigm and save thousands of species with a solution that matches the magnitude of the challenge,” he said.

Blunt called what we are facing a “wildlife crisis,” and noted the decline of once common species in Missouri, such as the bobwhite quail.

Among the experts who testified was Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, who said one-third of animal and plant species face extinction unless this country find a better model for protection. He called RAWA a “game changer,” and added: “It will have an immediate impact from the backcountry to the backyard.”

Existing models prioritize species with federal protection once their existence is threatened or endangered, but that is often late in the game and comes with its own set of problems.

“Imagine if the monarch butterfly ends up listed. The impact on farms all across the country is massive,” O’Mara said.

Sara Parker Pauley, director of the Missouri Department of Conservation, and a past president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, said investments in wildlife have worked, pointing to waterfowl recovery, but that lack of investment means other species — grassland birds, for example — could soon disappear.

“The overall to-do list far exceeds funding,” she said, adding that a new 21st century funding model is needed, with the focus on keeping species “out of the emergency rooms.”

She also said that states have completed federally mandated conservation plans, but there is no money to move on those plans. “The issue is funding. The funding has not come with it.”

RAWA recognizes the seriousness of the wildlife crisis, the importance of private landowners, and that being proactive rather than reactive is a better path foward.

If there was any concern about the bill, it is that the source of funding is not reliable, but what’s important here is that lawmakers from both parties, led by Blunt and Heinrich, are leading on a better model that may hold much promise.

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