About a century ago, Montana’s game and fish were in rough shape. In response, citizens and lawmakers worked together to give wildlife managers adequate resources and the authority to manage wildlife according to the best science. Through habitat protection and scientific management, we brought back elk, mule deer, and pronghorn, and we restored wild trout in our rivers and streams. This same success story took place across the country, from the recovery of wild turkeys in the South to waterfowl in the Midwest.
The restoration of Montana — and America’s — fish and wildlife in the last century was a great success, and it was paid for almost entirely by fees and taxes on hunters and anglers. To this day, the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is funded primarily by hunting and fishing licenses, matched by federal excise taxes on guns, ammo, bows, and fishing tackle.
While relying on funding from hunters and anglers has been a big success, it has only focused on a few dozen species that are hunted and fished. Hundreds of other species, from salamanders to prairie dogs to songbirds, have lacked conservation funding. Many of these species have declined due to habitat loss, disease, and other problems. Sometimes, they can end up in such bad shape that they trigger a takeover by the federal government under the Endangered Species Act, which can result in regulations and restrictions on many land uses.
Fortunately, we know how to prevent nongame species from reaching the brink of extinction. Just like the recovery of our game and sportfish species, all it takes is adequate funding and scientific management. In fact, for more than a decade, Fish, Wildlife and Parks has implemented a best-in-the-nation program to conserve at-risk species. The Department’s efforts have kept many species abundant, even helping prevent federal Endangered Species listings for the Arctic grayling, black-tailed prairie dog, northern leopard frog, and other species.
Because they target many nongame species, Fish, Wildlife, and Park’s programs for at-risk wildlife depend on federal funding rather than hunter and angler dollars. Unfortunately, federal funding to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered is just a drop in the bucket of the need. And even with support from both Senator Jon Tester and Senator Steve Daines, funding has still varied from year to year depending on the whims of Congress. As a result, many species are in decline, and more Endangered Species train wrecks are always on the horizon.
Last December, a bill was introduced in Congress that would overhaul how the federal government helps prevent wildlife from becoming endangered: the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647). This bill would permanently increase funding to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered by dedicating $1.3 billion from existing federal oil and gas lease revenue back into grants to state wildlife agencies.
This bill would mean more than $29 million a year in steady funding for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. This would mean FWP could do more to protect habitat, collect good scientific data, and work to conserve species on public and private lands.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would reinvent wildlife conservation for the next century, reducing conflicts over endangered species and protecting our natural heritage. The bill already has bipartisan support, as well as the backing of conservation groups, wildlife agencies, businesses, and even the oil and gas industry. Representative Greg Gianforte, Senator Jon Tester, and Senator Steve Daines should take a hard look at this bill and support dedicated funding to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered.