About RAWA and Oklahoma

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2021

Bighorn ram in the vicinity of Oklahoma’s Black Mesa State Park. (Photo Courtesy Harvey Payne)

Painted buntings are among 310 ‘species of concern’ listed in Oklahoma. (Courtesy Jim Arterburn)

To amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to make supplemental funds available for management of fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need as determined by State fish and wildlife agencies, and for other purposes.

TITLE: Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Oklahoma businesses
organizations sign on
to support RAWA

We, the undersigned, support preventing fish, wildlife, and plants from becoming endangered by creating a dedicated federal fund for proactive conservation efforts, led by the states, territories, and tribal nations, to address the nation’s looming wildlife crisis. We support this concept as initially recommended by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources, comprised of national business and conservation leaders …

2101 Strategies
Abuelita’s Restaurant
Antioch Energy

Burgess Company
Caddo Creek Energy
CG Printing
Chapter 2 Hoke’s Designs
Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma
Core Extreme Sports
Eastside Quick Mart
GG Printing
Griffin and Associates
Hoey Construction

Indian & Environmental Law Group, PLLC
Kids Club
Krown Carpet Cleaning LLC
Latham Consulting Group
Lawrence Capital
Lazer Ops OKC
Moon River Studio Art Gallery
Native Boy Productions
Oklahoma Automatic Door
Oklahoma State University
Quick Mart
Red Clay Capital
Six Mile Line Winery
Straight from Heavenly Bakery
Summerside Vineyard and Winery
Talents Group
Tulsa Bird Dog Association
Twisted Cork
Uniform Experts
Vero’s Bounce House Rentals

Restoring wildlife populations will create jobs in Oklahoma

Krystina Phillips

(Guest Opinion Appeared in The Oklahoman, Sept. 12, 2021)
edited for clarification

Oklahoma is celebrated for its diverse ecosystems and wildlife, but despite this diversity, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has identified no less than 310 Oklahoma wildlife species — encompassing every habitat and wildlife group, from insects to mammals — as “at risk.” This mirrors a nationwide trend in wildlife decline.

There is good news among this dire reality, though: A bold, bipartisan bill introduced in Congress seeks to address the wildlife crisis and, in the process, create jobs and facilitate economic growth. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), HR 2773, led by Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), and the Senate version, SB 2372, introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich, (D-N.M.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), will direct $1.4 billion of existing federal revenue toward state and tribal efforts to help fish and wildlife species in decline.

More than 180 representatives from both sides of the aisle co-sponsored the bill in the last session, including Oklahoma’s Tom Cole and Frank Lucas.  And, for good reason. If passed, Oklahoma would receive about $16.7 million to restore habitat, remove invasive species, address diseases, reduce water pollution and mitigate climate change impacts for our state’s at-risk wildlife.

RAWA also provides additional funding for federally listed endangered species, like Oklahoma’s long-eared bat and Arkansas River shiner. But the main thrust of the bill is intended to prevent wildlife from needing Endangered Species Act protections in the first place.

We know that proactive wildlife restoration pays off. Two decades ago, Congress created the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, aimed at stepping in before a species is on the brink of extinction. Despite being chronically underfunded, the program has seen meaningful successes.

For example, the grants supported targeted surveys for all of the highest-ranked freshwater mussel species in Oklahoma, and a partnership of the Peoria Tribe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and neighboring state agencies worked to re-establish the rabbitsfoot mussel in parts of the Verdigris River. The rabbitsfoot now is recovering to a point for potential down-listing or de-listing.

The Recovering America’s Wildlfie Act would provide a $97 million annual allocation for federally recognized Native American tribes’ wildlife conservation efforts. The Peoria Tribe’s work and federal grants that helped launch the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma’s Grey Snow Eagle House Aviary are just two examples that show why that is a vital part of this package.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Efforts targeted at sensitive wildlife populations now save the costs, pain and bureaucracy that come with official listings later. Oklahomans know those costs well.

Work funded by the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will be guided by the state’s existing Wildlife Action Plan, which outlines science-based actions. RAWA would create good jobs for Oklahomans today while protecting our state’s wildlife heritage for tomorrow.

This session, we hope even more members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation — including Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford — will champion this groundbreaking bill and help it become the law of the land. I encourage all Oklahomans to reach out to their elected leaders to encourage support of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

Krystina Phillips is president of the board of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma.

Watch the ConservAmerica webinar about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Oct. 12 ConservAmerica Webinar includes National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara.

Panel called for $1.3 billion for wildlife ‘NOW’ in 2016

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act idea has been around at least six years

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act idea appeared in this 2016 report.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act idea appeared in this 2016 report.

Sept. 2021

The idea for annual $1.3 billion allocations now before Congress in the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is not new.

A “blue-ribbon panel” that convened in 2015 chose a similar plan from among two dozen proposals. That panel represented the outdoor recreation retail and manufacturing sector, the energy industry, conservation organizations, and outdoor sporting groups.

The panel stated, emphatically “NOW” in its March 2016 final report, that $1.3 billion annual allocations are needed as a natural next step in this country’s wildlife conservation history. Indeed, the Act could mark the 21st Century’s contribution to the country’s history of major wildlife conservation initiatives.

Wildlife funds over the decades

Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937 to create a conservation fund financed by hunters and recreational shooters. Carrying the model forward for sports fishing, the Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950, also called the Federal Aid in Sportfish Recreation Act, paved the way for fisheries management.

Science-based fisheries and wildlife management carried out by the states brought back depleted white-tailed deer populations, wood ducks, striped bass, and many other fish and game species. These developments served to create the backbone of a healthy outdoor lifestyle for millions of Americans. It fueled a multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry.

But decades later conservation leaders still recognized a looming wildlife conservation crisis. More species required help, among them the prairie chicken, Arctic grayling, songbirds, myriad insects, and fishes. Numerous funding vehicles attempted through the 1980s and 1990s fell short. Despite some great success stories, more species continued on a trajectory toward federal listings as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Those ESA listings came at high regulatory and fiscal costs for government, industry and private landowners.

In 2000 and 2001, Congress created the State Wildlife Grant Program and the Tribal Wildlife Grant Program as proactive wildlife management measures. Each state was directed to create its own Wildlife Action Plan to guide expenditures. Disbursements to tribes were elevated in 2008 with competitive grants awarded to projects requiring matching funds. The resulting programs created a new era of cooperation between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with state, commonwealth, territory, and tribal entities, according to an Interior Department’s 20th-anniversary grant program report issued in September 2020.

“We need to act now to build a safety net for all fish and wildlife, create regulatory certainty for business and address the growing disconnect between people and nature. Failure to do so will mean that our generation will leave the nation’s rich natural assets impaired, rather than increased in worth.”

Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources (2016 Report)

Wildlife crises continued

Still, wildlife conservation puzzles persisted. In 2015 Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and former Wyoming Governor David Freudenthal co-chaired and convened The Blue Ribbon Panel On Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. It included a diverse group of 26 national conservation and industry leaders. The group stated that it believed the nation did indeed face a wildlife conservation crisis. It determined the state grants program was falling far short of what the states needed.

The grant programs have been the main funding source for nongame wildlife conservation for the past 21 years. Even so, the program hit a high of $90 million in 2010 but the average annual appropriation has been closer to $60 million. So, over the course of 21 years the program issued a cumulative total only slightly above the panel’s suggested $1.3 billion yearly allocation.

In its final report, the panel states: “We need to act now to build a safety net for all fish and wildlife, create regulatory certainty for business and address the growing disconnect between people and nature. Failure to do so will mean that our generation will leave the nation’s rich natural assents impaired, rather than increased in worth.”

The panelists noted that they believed the 21st Century needed a stronger proactive management strategy. It saw an opportunity to pull $1.3 billion from existing oil and gas drilling fees. The idea is similar to what is before Congress today. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would pull funding from environmental fines and penalties paid by industry.

In its closing paragraph, the report states: “Our generation will be judged by the state in which we leave these resources to the next. We must pick one of two paths. Do we proactively invest in conservation to ensure fish and wildlife are sustained or saddle the next generation with the high cost of recovering the species whose care we neglected? We believe that the right path is to begin investing NOW in a 21st-century vision for fish and wildlife.”