Inhofe votes with majority for $1.4 billion wildlife act

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act clears senate panel on 15-5 vote

Painted buntings are one among dozens of Oklahoma species of concern. Photo courtesy Jim Arterburn

By KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe joined four other Republicans on Thursday in a vote to advance the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act out of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The key step moves an act heralded as a landmark conservation measure toward House and Senate floor action.

Aimed at boosting state, tribal, and territorial conservation efforts with $1.4 billion annually, it is seen as a way to ease the growing numbers of threatened wildlife headed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The bill passed with a committee amendment that adds a one-time investment of $1.5 billion to create an Endangered Species Recovery and Habitat Conservation Legacy Fund. It would direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list species through collaboration with states, tribes, and private landowners.

The act could mean more than $16 million annually for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which would direct new efforts toward habitat and wildlife programs for more than 300 “species in need of conservation assistance.” Those programs now operate on less than $1 million annually.

The act also recognizes the wildlife management roles of tribal nations on tens of millions of acres of land with $97.5 million in annual dedicated funding.

“What a great day for wildlife conservation. This is a huge step forward in keeping common species common and we are grateful for the support from across the nation on this milestone,” said J.D. Strong, director of Oklahoma’s wildlife department.

Thursday’s vote reflected the act’s bipartisan support with a 15-5 vote in favor, with all majority members and half the minority in support. The bill has 32 cosponsors in the Senate—including 16 Republicans—and more than 170 cosponsors in the House, including Oklahoma’s 4th District Congressman Tom Cole.

“This bill will be a game-changer here in Oklahoma,” said Krystina Phillips, Chair of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma. “This funding will allow Oklahoma to take swift, collaborative measures to help wildlife at risk right now—before they reach the brink. Addressing America’s wildlife crisis with locally-driven measures is a bipartisan solution that is good for wildlife, good for business, and good for people.  We are grateful to Sen. Jim Inhofe for his committee vote to move the bill forward.”

Notably, Inhofe has in the past clashed with federal officials over the Endangered Species Act, particularly with the listing of the American burying beetle. He once characterized the 1973 act as a well-intentioned vehicle that became a “Trojan horse” against private landowners.

He also joined others in advocating for state and regional cooperative management efforts for threatened lesser prairie chickens, as opposed to federal listing protections.

“The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is the most significant wildlife-conservation bill in half a century—and today’s strong bipartisan vote brings it one tremendous step closer to becoming law,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

A funding note for the act directs the use of existing funds collected as fines and fees paid primarily by the oil and gas industry.

With committee passage Thursday the act moves to:

  • Invest $1.4 billion in dedicated annual funding for proactive, collaborative efforts by the states, tribes, and territories to recover at-risk wildlife species;
  • Focus efforts on the 12,000 species of wildlife and plants, identified by state, tribal, and territorial wildlife managers, in need of conservation assistance in their federally approved State Wildlife Action Plans
  • Devote $97.5 million each year to tribal nations’ proactive wildlife conservation efforts on tens of millions of acres of land;
  • Provide a one-time investment in funding that will focus specifically on addressing the backlog of endangered species recovery work;
  • Spend at least 15 percent of the resources on recovering threatened and endangered species.

Kelly Bostian is an independent journalist writing for The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To learn more about what we do and to support Kelly’s work, see the About the CCOF page.

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