A bipartisan bill in Congress could mark a new chapter in the fight for wildlife

A bipartisan proposal in Congress aims to halt the alarming decline of many wildlife species with an unprecedented increase in habitat spending. In Minnesota, a Restoration of America’s Wildlife Act It can improve the fortunes of bellies, turtles, songbirds, and dozens of other endangered or degraded species.

The US House of Representatives passed a version of the law in June. States and tribal governments will give $1.4 billion a year — collected in federal environmental fees and fines — to help some endangered species recover and keep other animals and plants from becoming endangered. Despite support in the Senate from both Democrats and Republicans, there has been no effort yet to bring it to a vote. US Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat and one of the sponsors of the law, said the goal is to have it approved by the end of the year.

“It’s strange that the fact that it’s supported on both sides of the corridor and isn’t controversial is kind of slowing it down,” said Kieran Sockling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s because partisan people on either side really prioritize their bills. It’s frustrating.”

Scientists believe that the Earth is experiencing a mass extinction due to humans. Minnesota Working to save some of the most endangered animals and plants In the face of habitat loss and other threats, Star Tribune reported in a series that began last month. The loss of life over the past 50 years has been staggering. Nearly a third of North American birds are gone, with numbers declining Estimated at 3 billion Since 1970. The numbers of butterflies and bees have declined sharply. So, too, take the hibernating bats.

At least 150 species in Minnesota are on the verge of extinction. But scientists and resource managers know what can be done.

“All it really takes is money,” Sockling said. “We know how to conserve endangered wildlife. Look at wolves, bald eagles, manatees, sea otters – when we focus and give them the resources they need, they recover. This isn’t a mysterious problem, it’s simply one we know how to solve.”

The Recovered America Wildlife Act will save about $21 million annually for the Minnesota Wildlife Action Plan, which is overseen by an arm of the state Department of Natural Resources that has been largely responsible for bringing trumpeter pelicans back to the state, among other restoration successes.

This plan now only gets about $3.5 million in federal funding annually, and that funding can be spotty. The program also lives on money donated from the tax credit, and from drivers who purchase specialized wildlife license plates.

“This is a huge opportunity – a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Kristen Hall, DNR’s Wildlife Action Plan coordinator.

It’s not just the amount of money that will help, but the fact that it will be reliable and guaranteed, which will give biologists an opportunity to plan much needed projects well into the future, Hall said.

Most of the state’s struggling species are affected by a combination of habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. The DNR Action Plan largely prioritizes habitat restoration projects. Hall does not believe that the money will be used immediately to protect any new land, but rather to enhance the ecological value of land already under state protection.

“So the state has their run sites for hunting, for example, and that’s great,” Hall said. “But we’ve never been able to plant early season seeds there because they are so expensive. With that money, we’ll get forb seeds early in the season and those hunting sites will now be a huge supporter of pollinators.”

She also sees the money helping species that don’t grab attention or grab headlines the way the state’s great mammals do.

“Our salamanders and our amphibians need attention,” Hall said.

The number of frogs, toads and salamanders has been declining for years.

“We want to look at how water resources are currently affected so that amphibians are not under threat as they are,” she said.

On Tuesday, Klobuchar said the money will represent the most significant investment in wildlife conservation in decades and will directly help more than 12,000 species.

“It’s part of our lives in Minnesota,” she said. “If we didn’t have wildlife to see or fish or deer to hunt, it wouldn’t be the same situation.”

The House passed the bill by 231 votes, with 16 Republicans joining 215 Democrats. The Senate bill was co-sponsored by 42 people, including Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. Klobuchar said the goal is to put the bill to a vote on its own or as part of a larger bill by the end of the year.

“There has always been bipartisan support when it comes to conservation,” Klobuchar said. “I hope we get this passed, especially since Roy Blunt is retiring. I know he’s working on a lot of things before he retires, and that’s one of them.”

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