Congress occasionally surprises by passing legislation that makes a few people outside Washington happy.
“It was a fantastic day,” Kendra Wecker, chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said in response to the House’s recent passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, aka RAWA.
The bill goes to the Senate next.
RAWA, which has widespread support among conservation groups and some outdoor trade associations, would significantly boost federal money available to states for projects aimed at stopping or reversing wildlife decline.
The bill, which Wecker calls “a tremendous opportunity to strengthen wildlife conservation in Ohio and across the country,” is on the Senate’s legislative calendar, meaning a vote should occur sooner than later.
Billed as a bipartisan success by supporters, RAWA won in the House because Democrats voted 215-2 for passage. Republicans voted 188-16 against.
Votes against included those cast by Ohio Republicans Mike Carey, Jim Jordan, Bob Latta, Bob Gibbs, Troy Balderson, Steve Chabot, Warren Davidson, Anthony Gonzalez and Brad R. Wenstrup. Voting yea were Ohio Republicans Michael A. Turner and David P. Joyce along with Democrats Joyce Beatty, Shontel M. Brown, Tim Ryan and Marcy Kaptur.
Whether RAWA passes in an evenly divided chamber will in part be decided by Ohio’s two senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and outgoing Republican Rob Portman.
Assuming President Biden’s willingness to sign the final bill, what difference can RAWA make?
“Bald eagles, trumpeter swans and ospreys have rebounded thanks to targeted wildlife management efforts supported with funding,” Wecker wrote. “The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will bridge the gap and provide the desperately needed investment to keep wildlife from becoming endangered. Providing habitat for wildlife to thrive and people to enjoy is our goal.”
RAWA would do that by making available $1.3 billion each year to state fish and wildlife management agencies and provide another $97.5 million annually for tribal management, said the conservation advocacy group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
Money for RAWA, which would run for five years before requiring re-enactment, isn’t generated by taxes. Instead, settlements and fines resulting from natural resources cases in federal courts would be dedicated to the payout pool.
The legislation would replace a grant system in place since 2000 that has generated a measly average of about $70 million a year. That means if RAWA becomes law, there would be a 20-fold increase.
The need for additional funding became apparent when states began to identify their conservation needs after considerable study showed about 12,000 species nationwide in decline, some in real peril.
A significant portion of birds, butterflies, bats, bumblebees, fish, amphibians and freshwater mussels could eventually be lost without habitat restoration efforts, which coincidentally benefit game animals and fish.
RAWA funding would allow each state to implement three-fourths of its action plan, according to the American Fisheries Society.
Other selling points for the law include job creation and the continued health of an outdoors industry that generates nationwide an estimated $778 billion annually.
Possibly as important is the fact that action taken to head off population decline will potentially keep numerous species off federal and state threatened and endangered lists. Under current rules, endangered and threatened species require special – sometimes costly, sometimes burdensome – handling that can get in the way of business expansion and resource extraction.
RAWA, in other words, would give state governments greater means to salvage species that further neglect could turn into bureaucratic impediments.