PROMO Animal - Bobcat sitting in tree - USFWS - Gary Kramer

Bipartisan conservation bill would stem species-decline 'crisis'

USFWS - Gary Kramer
Eric Tegethoff

(Oregon News Service) A bipartisan effort in Congress to curb the loss of plant and animal species could get a Senate committee vote as soon as this week. 

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act would invest $1.4 billion annually in state and tribal conservation efforts, and dedicate at least 15% to recovering threatened and endangered species. 

Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator with the group Oregon Wild, said it would send nearly $25 million annually to the state for the Oregon Conservation Strategy and Nearshore Strategy.

"These two strategies are our premiere wildlife conservation measures in the state," said Moser. "But unfortunately they have been woefully underfunded for far too long. So, passage of this legislation at the federal level would be a huge boost for Oregon's wildlife conservation programs."

The Senate version could receive a vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee as soon as Wednesday. Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley sits on that committee. 

The bill has 32 cosponsors in the Senate, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Moser said the measure would help not only species on the brink, but also proactively save Oregon species like the western painted turtle, which isn't listed as threatened. 

She said the turtle species found in the Columbia River Basin and the Willamette Valley lays its eggs near the water, but faces pressure from habitat loss.

"This one in particular," said Moser, "if there were an actual infusion of dollars into the Oregon Conservation Strategy, it means the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife could finally take the necessary steps to better protect this species and its habitat that it's relying on."

Mike Leahy is director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation. He said states have identified more than 12,000 species of animals and plants in need of conservation assistance, and called this a "silent crisis."

"There is awareness of some of the more charismatic species out there that are in decline," said Leahy. "But there is widespread wildlife and biodiversity declines with pollinators, aquatic species, fish, various types of birds."

If the Senate committee approves the bill this week, the Recovering America's Wildlife Act will be ready for a floor vote in both the House and Senate.