COOS BAY — After being dropped by Congress in December 2017, the $1.3 billion Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will be voted on in the next couple of months.
If passed, the state of Oregon will receive $52 million in federal funds that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will use to conserve and manage fish and wildlife species.
“We have a very narrow statutory funding stream, which has largely been over the decades from hunter and angler license dollars as well as federal funds…The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would for the first time in my career allow us to fully implement the Oregon Conservation strategy developed 15 years ago,” director of ODFW Curt Melcher said
ODFW would not receive $52 million up front, instead they would receive $26 million a year for the next two years. Also, the state must match $13 million to receive the federal grant.
According to Melcher the current biennial budget for ODFW is approximately $340 million. So ODFW would be receiving around $65 million more biennially if the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act passes.
“That is a significant investment in actual non-game program enhancements. That’s significant investment in additional fish and wildlife enforcement…Frankly it will be from my perspective it will be the watershed moment in fish and wildlife conservation in the United States,” Melcher said.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.). Representatives drafted the bill to combat habitat loss, invasive species, disease, and severe weather that have taken a significant toll on birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and bees throughout the country.
The $1.3 billion funding the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would come from revenue collected from oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters.
“Our goal is truly to begin to address species conservation in a proactive fashion to avoid the reactive positions that we largely end up in with species listings or petitions for listings under the federal Endangered Species Act,” Melcher said.
The bill has seen significant widespread support, and is likely to pass in the House of Representatives. However, if all goes well at the federal level for the bill the state legislature will have to find $13 million to match the federal grant.
“In the upcoming February session, you’re going to see a bill introduced, that’ll be House Bill 4015. It’s going to be introduced as a bill at the request of the House Committee on environment and energy…There are a number of us at the legislative level in Oregon to make sure this bill passes. They want to get an allocation hopefully a general fund in the amount of $13 million so we can secure this federal funds for $26 million,” Mark Labhart, member of legislative committee for environment and energy, said.
Labhart is confident that the state will elect to pay the $13 million match grant because there is of the nationwide interest in passing this bill.
“On both the House and the Senate side there are going to be strong supporters of this bill. So I’m optimistic. Yes, it’s a short session, and yes it’s going to be a difficult lift but were going to give it our best shot to get this to happen,” Labhart said.
Hunters and fishermen have been supportive of generally supportive of the act, as better funding for ODFW could mean better management of species populations. It could also prolong the ever rising costs of fishing and hunting licenses.
Conservation Director of the Oregon Hunters Association Jim Akenson said, “This bill is very promising from our perspective in part because it’s an opportunity to share the burden of the expense of managing our states wildlife. Currently 80 percent of the funding for our states fish and wildlife agency comes from sportsman fees such as hunting and fishing licenses.”
Akenson hopes that increased funding will help restore sage grouse populations.
“Sage grouse are still hunted in our state. There’s approximately 800 tags available for sage grouse hunting, but hunters first and foremost are interested in the recovery of that species,” Akenson said.