New Mexico Democrat U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich sought to strengthen federal actions to protect endangered species in a bill introduced alongside a Republican from Missouri.
On Wednesday, Heinrich and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), aiming to invest federal funds in wildlife conservation efforts across the nation.
Both Heinrich and Blunt are members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, Heinrich as Co-Chair and Blunt as a member, a group that supported the legislation.
The Act would fund conservation of more than 12,000 species of plant and animals with $1.3 billion of federal funds, and earmark $97.5 million annually to projects by Tribal nations on about 140 million acres.
It would also specify that conservation efforts outlined in State Wildlife Action Plans would lead such efforts and would accelerate the recovery of 1,600 species already listed as endangered, meaning extinction is imminent, or threatened which implies an endangered status is forthcoming.
If passed, the RAWA would also direct fees and penalties assessed for certain environmental violations to the Act’s requirements.
“Protecting America’s fish and wildlife habitat means conserving the creatures we love before they ever become imperiled,” Heinrich said. “After all, our children deserve to inherit the full breadth of American wildlife, from bumblebees to bison, that we know today. This legislation will make that possible.”
New Mexico’s Wildlife Action Plan was first published in 2016, by the Department of Game and Fish and included plans to save animals native to the state New Mexico like the lesser prairie chicken, Texas hornshell mussel or the meadow jumping mouse, along with critical habitats or areas of land and waters needed to fully restore a species to its natural state and population.
“New Mexico is one of the most biologically diverse states in the nation, home to over 6,000 species of animals that occupy habitats from hot deserts to alpine tundra,” read the plan’s executive summary.
“Maintaining the viability of every species is difficult and some have declined and are now listed as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.”
The plan reported on the distribution of imperiled species of wildlife, both listed under the Endangered Species Act or deemed in danger of being listed, identifying threats to the species, agencies the state could partner with on conservation activities and strategies to do so.
The plan looked at six ecological regions: the Colorado Plateaus, Southern Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico along with, High Plains and Tablelands, the Chihuahuan Desert to the southeast, and Madrean Archipelago and the Arizona-New Mexico mountains on the western side of the state.
Areas of concern for the regions listed in the plan were impacts from industrial development leading to habitat loss, while also balancing livestock needs and the health of watersheds.
Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation said Heinrich’s bill will help support conservation in New Mexico and across the county.
Deubel said New Mexico was especially biodiverse and in need of stronger efforts to prevent extinction.
“This bill will transform wildlife conservation in New Mexico, protecting our unique species from the Gila monster to bighorn sheep,” Deubel said. “We’re grateful to Sen. Heinrich for leading the way while reaching across the aisle, demonstrating that conservation is a core value for all Americans.”
Blunt said he hoped the bill would encourage states to enact and implement stronger strategies to conserve wildlife species for the future.
“We can better protect our land, waterways, and wildlife by encouraging states, territories, and Tribes to make significant contributions to voluntary conservation efforts,” he said. “I’m proud to help introduce this bill that will help preserve our nation’s wildlife for future generations.”
President of national conservation group the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Whit Fosburgh said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how important access to the outdoors was for Americans.
He said outdoor recreation continued to thrive and grow as an industry in the wake of the health crisis and federal funding could help bolster the growth to meet post-COVID-19 demands.
“Considering that many Americans rediscovered nature during the pandemic and we continue to see a bump in hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation participation across the country, there is no better time to create the kind of dedicated conservation funding solutions that would be established through the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act,” Fosburgh said.
“Passage of this bipartisan legislation, as part of a strategy to support our frontline fish and wildlife management workers and create conservation jobs, is one of our top priorities for Congress this session.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.