Congress occasionally surprises by passing legislation that makes a few people outside of Washington happy.
“It was a fantastic day,” said Kendra Wecker, head of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, in response to the House’s recent approval of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, also known as RAWA.
The bill then goes to the Senate.
RAWA, which has broad support from conservation groups and some outdoor sports associations, would significantly increase the federal money available to states for projects aimed at halting or reversing wildlife degradation.
The bill, which Wecker calls “a great opportunity to strengthen conservation in Ohio and across the country,” is on the Senate’s legislative calendar, meaning it should be voted on sooner rather than later.
Billed as a two-pronged success by supporters, RAWA won in the House as Democrats voted 215-2 for passage. Republicans voted 188-16 against.
Votes to the contrary included Ohio Republicans Mike Carey, Jim Jordan, Bob Latta, Bob Gibbs, Troy Balderson, Steve Chabot, Warren Davidson, Anthony Gonzalez and Brad R. Wenstrup. Yes, Ohio Republicans Michael A. Turner and David P. Joyce voted along with Democrats Joyce Beatty, Shontel M. Brown, Tim Ryan and Marcy Kaptur.
Whether RAWA succeeds in an evenly divided chamber will be decided in part by Ohio’s two senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and outgoing Republican Rob Portman.
Assuming President Biden is willing to sign the final bill, what difference could RAWA make?
“Eagles, trumpeter swans and ospreys have recovered thanks to targeted conservation efforts supported by funding,” Wecker wrote. “The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will bridge the gap and provide much-needed investment to prevent wildlife from being endangered. Our goal is to provide a habitat for wildlife to thrive and people to enjoy.”
RAWA would do that by making $1.3 billion annually available to state fish and wildlife management agencies and an additional $97.5 million annually for tribe management, the conservation advocacy group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers said.
Money for RAWA, which would be five years before it had to be reintroduced, is not generated by taxes. Instead, settlements and fines arising from natural resource cases in federal courts would be assigned to the payout pool.
The legislation would replace a subsidy system that has been in effect since 2000 and has yielded a measly average of about $70 million a year. That means if RAWA becomes law, there would be a 20-fold increase.
The need for additional funding became apparent as states began identifying their conservation needs after extensive research showed about 12,000 species across the country are declining, some in real danger.
A significant portion of the birds, butterflies, bats, bumblebees, fish, amphibians and freshwater mussels could eventually be lost without habitat restoration efforts, which just happens to benefit wildlife and fish.
With RAWA funding, each state could implement three-quarters of its action plan, according to the American Fisheries Society.
Other selling points for the law include job creation and the continued health of an outdoor industry that generates an estimated $778 billion annually.
Perhaps just as important is the fact that measures taken to curb population decline could potentially remove numerous species from the state and state’s list of endangered and threatened species. Under current rules, endangered and threatened species require special – sometimes expensive, sometimes difficult – treatment that can hinder business expansion and resource extraction.
In other words, RAWA would give state governments more resources to save species that could lead to further neglect to bureaucratic barriers.