Commentary

Arkansas wildlife will benefit from legislation pending in lame-duck Congress

Leaders of state, national groups say time is running out

A monarch butterfly lands on a flower. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A monarch butterfly lands on a flower. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

From the Ozarks to the Delta, Arkansas is home to some of our nation’s most cherished wildlife. But right now, more than 375 species across the state are facing significant challenges, due to increasing habitat loss, new invasive species, and extreme flooding. It’s part of a larger national trend where more than one-third of America’s wildlife are at increased risk of extinction.

Fortunately, Congress is nearing passage of a bipartisan bill called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would be the most consequential wildlife legislation in 50 years. Nationwide, the bill will fund proactive, locally-led efforts to help at-risk wildlife. It’s a solution that matches the magnitude of the wildlife crisis.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has broad support in Congress. The House has already passed the bill on a bipartisan vote, with backing from conservation champions like Rep. French Hill. The Senate bill has more than 40 cosponsors, including Sen. John Boozman and 15 other Republicans. But we are running out of time to get it across the finish line before the session closes at the end of the year.

Funding from the bill will allow the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to build on its decades of experience using the fees paid by hunters and anglers to keep our waterfowl, fish and deer populations strong.

But right now, there isn’t the same type of funding to help at-risk non-game species like the monarch butterfly, which have declined by 90 percent in just two decades. Now, these iconic butterflies are at risk of extinction and are being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Funding from the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would increase monarch populations by boosting local efforts such as the Arkansas Monarch Conservation Partnership. This coalition provides assistance to landowners who want to restore grasslands benefitting monarchs on their properties. Farmers and ranchers often see benefits in soil health as well as increases in bobwhite quail and other upland birds after this type of restoration.

With 37 species in Arkansas already federally listed — and dozens more headed that way unless we act — we need this type of “win-win” conservation now more than ever. The $14 million annually for Arkansas would unleash a new era of conservation in the Natural State, boosting the state’s $3.5 billion outdoor recreation economy. 

These voluntary, local efforts to save wildlife would also be much cheaper than the current approach, which amounts to waiting until a species is at risk of extinction before stepping in. This bill is the ultimate ounce of prevention that beats a pound of cure.

Now that the bill’s champions have identified a way to offset the bill’s costs, we hope that every member of the Arkansas delegation — including Rep. Bruce Westerman, the current ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee — will wholeheartedly advocate for passing this landmark legislation before the end of the year.

The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is so close to becoming the law of the land, it would be a shame if this commonsense, cost-effective proposal died inches from the end zone. Arkansas’ wildlife can’t wait any longer.

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Trey Buckner, Arkansas Wildlife Federation
Trey Buckner, Arkansas Wildlife Federation

Charles “Trey” S. Buckner, III is the president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation.

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Collin O'Mara, National Wildlife Federation
Collin O'Mara, National Wildlife Federation

Collin O’Mara is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

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