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Restoring America’s Wildlife Act Would Provide Opportunity to Pioneer Bipartisan Conservation

By Tamsin Fleming, Operations Intern
July 15, 2021

F or more than a century, wildlife conservation efforts in America have been predominantly funded with hunting and angling fees. But with increased use, environmental changes, and more sensitive species, funding from permits and license fees is not enough to conserve the vast inventory of at-risk species and their sensitive habitats.

In the United States, there are 1,300 threatened or endangered animal species under the Endangered Species Act. More locally, In the Pacific Northwest, there are 59 species currently or almost facing extinction, including half of the region’s salmon and steelhead, Southern Resident Orca whales, and many other animals.

Every state has a Wildlife Action Plan that identifies specific actions to protect at-risk species, but implementing these plans can be a very costly endeavor. Under current federal law, each state receives approximately $10 million a year from the federal government to help them implement these plans, but some states estimate they would need three times that much funding to adequately protect these species.

The Restoring America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) addresses this critical funding gap and would provide significantly more funding for states to complete fish and wildlife conservation and habitat improvement projects. RAWA was reintroduced in the House of Representatives for consideration this year, and many of Oregon’s Representatives have already signed on as co-sponsors, including Rep. DeFazio, Rep. Blumenauer, and Rep. Bonamici. There are not any co-sponsors in the Washington delegation as of yet, and the bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate for consideration.

However, if enacted, RAWA could increase federal funding for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) by 12%, bringing in between $22 and $24 million in additional support on top of their existing budget. An increase in funding of that scale makes it less likely hunting and angling fees would increase to cover necessary conservation and restoration projects.

This sizable increase in capacity will hopefully reduce the pressure to increase hunting and angling fees. Instead, ODFW would have ample funding to maintain and expand their conservation efforts, like enhancing grasslands, restoring wetlands and improving forests across the State.

As Curt Melcher, Director of ODFW said recently, the “Recovering America's Wildlife Act would support boots on the ground at the local level and fund people to do the work that helps landowners improve species populations.”

Improving habitat and protecting endangered species doesn’t just benefit the environment, it also benefits the Pacific Northwest’s vast outdoor recreation economy. Over 100 million people take part in at least one form of outdoor recreation, benefiting local communities and small businesses that serve recreationists. For example, in 2019, the American Sportfishing Association determined that the $1.5 billion fishing industry in Oregon supports more than 13,000 jobs across the state.

Hunting and fishing is an incredibly important driver of our economy, communities, and identity as Northwesterners, but the cost of conservation initiatives to protect these species cannot continue to rely on hunters and anglers. Everyone benefits from abundant wildlife populations and healthy ecosystems, and RAWA would provide an avenue to fund efforts to protect and restore endangered species and habitats without leaning so heavily on the hunting and angling communities.