(Illinois News Connection) Environmental groups are calling efforts over the past half-century to restore the wild turkey population from the brink of extinction one of America's greatest wildlife success stories.
Conservationists are now calling on Congress to pass pending legislation which would help states, territories and tribes duplicate those efforts to save hundreds of threatened species. The bipartisan Recovering America's Wildlife Act would allocate $1.4 billion annually to protect fish, wildlife and plants for future generations.
John Kanter, senior biologist for the National Wildlife Federation, said it is a matter of scaling up current efforts to protect more species.
"What we're doing here is using this tremendous conservation success story as a springboard to talk about the next generation of conservation success stories," Kanter explained.
By 1910, there were no more wild turkeys in Illinois because of overhunting and a loss of habitat. But starting in 1950, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources program to reintroduce the birds succeeded in restoring the population to every county in the state.
The Recovering America's Wildlife Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year and is awaiting action by the Senate, where there are more than 40 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.
Kanter emphasized lawmakers urgently need to approve the bill before the current session closes at the end of the year.
"A third of species -- known plants and animals in the U.S. -- are at increased risk of extinction," Kanter pointed out. "It's time for us to address this biodiversity crisis, and let's get ahead of it."
He noted in the 1950s, there were only about 30,000 wild turkeys left in the country, but a concerted effort by government agencies and conservation groups between 1970 and the early 2000s restored habitat and reintroduced turkeys to places where they had been eliminated. There are currently an estimated 7 million wild turkeys across the U.S.