It’s the biggest bill aimed at helping at-risk wildlife in 50 years

Utah’s congressional delegation should get behind the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune A bull bison raises its tail and paws at the dirt as he defies Utah Division of Natural Resources workers as they try and move him into the Bison Corrals on Antelope Island State Park, October 31, 2014.

From bighorns to bison, Utah is home to some of our nation’s most cherished wildlife. But right now, more than 170 Utah species need our help as they face threats from habitat loss, prolonged drought, invasive species, and intensifying fires. It’s part of a larger national trend where more than one-third of America’s wildlife are edging toward extinction.

Fortunately, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help save Utah’s biodiversity through a bipartisan bill in Congress called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. The bill is designed to fund proactive, collaborative and locally led efforts to help recover at-risk fish, wildlife and plant species. Utah would receive more than $21 million annually. It’s a solution that matches the magnitude of the wildlife crisis.

The Recovering American’s Wildlife Act has incredible bipartisan momentum. There are 35 cosponsors in the Senate, nearly half of them Republican, and nearly 180 cosponsors in the House. It has already passed both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee with strong support from both Republicans and Democrats.

All we need is a little help from Utah’s Congressional delegation to get it across the finish line, none of whom are currently cosponsors of the bill.

Here’s why the bill makes sense for Utah: We can build upon the locally driven successes that have been the hallmark of the Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources. For decades, they’ve built partnerships and collaborations to help game species, like wild turkey and elk, as well as at-risk wildlife like Gila monsters and pygmy rabbits.

The state also leveraged federal State Wildlife Grants with the state’s unique Endangered Species Mitigation Fund to help save imperiled species like the Virgin River spine — a small fish found only in the Virgin River and its tributaries. Thirty years ago, this fish was only found in half of the rivers where it should have been due to reduced river flows from drought and water withdrawals. After years of collaborative conservation efforts, the spinedace is now found in 90 percent of its historic habitats. As a result of this state-led success, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined last fall that the fish did not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

With 45 species in Utah already federally listed as threatened and endangered and dozens more headed that way unless we act, we need collaborative recovery more than ever. Prolonged drought and raging wildfires coupled with Utah’s rapid growth and the accompanying increase in water use require new innovative solutions to keep Utah’s wildlife thriving.

That’s where the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act comes in. It prioritizes proactive, local collaboration and innovation to save the full diversity of wildlife, rather than waiting until species decline until the point where primarily federal regulation is needed. It’s the ultimate ounce of prevention that prevents a pound of cure.

The funding would allow Utah to unleash a new era of conservation for Bonneville cutthroat trout, sage-grouse, boreal toads, Utah prairie dogs and dozens of other species. Further, the bill will also provide funding to Utah’s eight federally recognized responsible Tribes, who are for managing nearly 2.5 million acres but have never had dedicated resources.

This collaborative, non-regulatory, locally driven approach of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act should appeal to the common-sense conservatism of Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee and Reps. Blake Moore, Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Burgess Owens. We’re hopeful that each member of the Utah delegation will co-sponsor the bill and support it on the floor.

After all, what would Utah be without its wildlife? Outdoor recreation contributions more than $6.4 billion annually to Utah’s economy. The state has awe-inspiring public lands and waterways, but it is majestic wildlife that truly brings them to life.

Inaction is the ally of extinction. We urge Utah’s leaders to seize this incredible opportunity to save wildlife through collaboration by helping pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

Lindsey Davis is a board member of the Utah Wildlife Federation.

Collin O’Mara is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

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