Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and Advocacy
by Scott Hudson, NTMN class of 2018
This is that busy time of year when Nature is busting out all over and our chapter calendar is overflowing with opportunities to learn and to serve. Before getting to the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, I particularly want to highlight two items: our New Class and the Native Plants and Prairies Day. I’m proud of all of you in the Class of 2022 finishing your formal training and pulling together four outstanding class projects – Forest Trunk Children’s’ Activities, Tenison Park Creek Restoration, Ned & Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail Community Education, and Campo Santo Monarch Habitat and Waystation. These contribute to ongoing outreach. They provide lasting value to the chapter and the community.
I hope you were able to participate in the Native Plants and Prairies Day on May 7th. The exhibitors, speakers and walk leaders all were just outstanding. Thanks to the many people who contributed to its success and special congratulations to coordinators Brenda Catlett, Ann Sansone, and Janet Smith on such a fine event.
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act While there’s much more going on within NTMN, I want to devote the balance of this post to one timely thing: the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). This pending legislation could provide transformational funding to protect wildlife nationwide and is being voted on very soon.
Richard Heilbrun gave a comprehensive review of this proposed legislation in the May TMN Tuesday webinar. Richard serves as Conservation Outreach Program Leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Oversight of the Texas Master Naturalist program is one of his duties; thus Michelle Haggerty, our TMN State Program Coordinator, reports to him. If you’re interested in this hour of advanced training, please visit this link. For a recap of his presentation, please read on.
Advocacy at TMN? A disclaimer: We’ve all been taught in basic training that we’re not to advocate politically as Master Naturalists. This may be a good time for a reminder: we don’t use the Texas Master Naturalist title to identify with a particular political viewpoint or when participating in political advocacy.
Thus, as a Master Naturalist, I can educate about a topic, but that necessarily stops short of advising someone how to vote or other action to take. If I wish to advise a representative on how I believe they should vote, I need to do so as a private citizen. Steering clear of that, it was evident in the webinar that, without advocating, passing along Richard’s content is appropriate.
Clarifying the distinction between our Master Naturalist roles and advocacy – that we can and should advocate as private citizens – Richard emphasized that we and our networks are the most knowledgeable in our communities on this topic. This positions us to be especially effective in this legislative process.
Richard turned to the need for RAWA, explaining how 1/3 of all species are now considered at risk of extinction and that, of the 12,000 identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), over 1300 are in Texas. This risk cuts across all taxa, including for example, 68% of freshwater mussels, 39% of amphibians, 20% of butterflies, and 15% of birds.
The SGCN list includes the 100+ species listed in Texas as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (this growing list is over 1,600 species nationwide). He pointed out that RAWA is ecosystem-based and that by providing a healthy ecosystem for SGCN, it would provide conditions beneficial to all species.
This strategy offers two important benefits. He explained how it is much more efficient to support SGCN before they decline to threatened or endangered levels. Preventing that deep decline is far less expensive than bringing species back from the brink of extinction. By ensuring healthy ecosystems, the strategy would also stand to shorten the SGCN list.
Richard described how a shrinking funding base for conservation has been a long-term problem for wildlife. The number of people buying hunting licenses is declining annually. Once a main resource for wildlife, this revenue is no longer stable.
Richard discussed how we’ve fixed similar problems before. The mid-1800s saw westward expansion with no wildlife regulation or support programs, and several species were declining sharply. Over-hunting, habitat loss, fashion, and other causes contributed. Many were concerned that owls, egrets, elk, pronghorn, turkey and others would soon be beyond recovery, yet today we can point to significant successes. He discussed how our needs now are for time to work, people to study and implement solutions, and funding to do so.
Funding led Richard’s talk to the key provisions of the act, to
– Allocate $1.3 billion/year to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program
– Use existing environmental enforcement revenues and not call for new taxes
– Allocate $95 million/year for Tribal lands SGCN conservation
– Implement State Wildlife Action Plans to fund SGCN needs through the state’s wildlife agency
– Provide Texas with over $50 million/year (per TPWD math)
– Require a 25% match
– Allow 15% for education/outreach/wildlife-associated recreation (~$7.5 million)
Status in Congress Richard reported that the act is very positively viewed in both the U.S. House and Senate, with 175 and 34 cosponsors respectively and broad bipartisan support. RAWA is seen as preventive maintenance supported by a large national coalition. The next stop is the floor of the House and of the Senate, so he is seeking help to get it there. He pointed out that Congress is hungry for a bipartisan win, particularly between now and the start of the election season in June.
Who would RAWA benefit? Richard explained the wide range of stakeholders standing to benefit: non-governmental conservation organizations (major grants passing through TPWD), land trusts, academic institutions, hunters & anglers, birders/paddlers/hikers/campers, private landowners, game and non-game interests (being habitat based), ecotourism, energy industry (less uncertainty), the general public (receiving better ecosystem services), and, of course, wildlife.
The funds would primarily go toward habitat restoration on public and private land, voluntary land protection, management incentives, and disease mitigation. That 15% for education and outreach could expand master naturalist programs, support camps, schools, and other work to get people engaged with nature. He also pointed out that the act supports environmental justice by funding underserved groups.
Based on this background, the strategy Richard stated is for us to consider, as private citizens, generating asks of our members of the U.S. Congress. He said the specific need, over the next few weeks, was for calls and emails to members of Congress, then activating our networks to do the same. He suggested very simple messages. To Congress, “I care about nature and wildlife. Please vote Yes for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.” And to one’s network, “Help me get word to Representative/Senator ______ to ask him/her to vote Yes for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.” Another RAWA resource he mentioned is the Texas Alliance, particularly the tool kit provided on their website.
Richard told us that people have worked on this legislation for six years. I’ve been aware of it far less than that. Interesting how its fate could rest on the next few weeks.
Thanks for all you do for our communities,
NTMN Chapter President